As an artist, putting your work in the proper context makes it both easier to digest and present. So when the Foreign Exchange precluded their latest release, a compilation of (mostly) remixes +FE Music: The Reworks, with a brand-new song, the duo of Phonte and Nicolay doubled-down on making sure the context was perfect. The track, a bouncy deep house number called “So What If It Is”, revealed the direction of two completely separate projects: The Reworks and the duo’s follow-up to 2010’s phenomenal Authenticity.
Their incredible songwriting and production aside, Phonte and Nicolay’s most appealing feature as a duo is their ability to musically shape-shift. Here are two guys who kicked things off with a soul/R&B-tinged rap album, 2004’s Connected, only to gracefully transition toward straight-up R&B. Yet, in doing so, they never completely abandoned rap—Tay still spits, as do guests like Median—and they also haven’t remained stagnant. Authenticity, for example, finds them successfully more sounds than ever before, especially on folk-y tear-jerker “Laughing At Your Plans” with Chantae Cann.
Rather than continue dipping into that pool of sounds on a proper new album, the Foreign Exchange pushed down the acoustic doors with an intimate live album, Dear Friends: An Evening With the Foreign Exchange. And hey, who’s to say we won’t hear more strumming on their next LP. But in beginning the promotional cycle for The Reworks, the duo revealed that their new album would carry a vibe similar to “So What If It Is”. Thus, what better way to preview that sound and appease an ever-faithful fan base than with a fantastic stopgap project like The Reworks?
But here’s the thing: this release also serves as the perfect way to get better acquainted with the +FE Music collective. If you have caught them live, you know damn well that it’s not just Nicolay and Phonte performing onstage. Over the past few years, they have been joined by songstress Sy Smith, talented keyboardist/producer Zo!, singer-songwriter Jeanne Jolly, and guitarist Chris Boerner of the Hot at Nights. Their talents are on display here, primarily in the form of a remix by bandleader Nicolay. His most impressive turn comes why tackling Jolly’s “Sweet Love”, which transforms from a swoon-worthy acoustic lullaby into a hypnotic electronic burner. Nicolay is at his most languid here and on his version of RJD2’s “Games You Can Win”. Elsewhere, he ramps up the energy much like his more dance floor-ready cuts on Shibuya: City Lights Vol. 2; see the funk-shuffle of Sy Smith’s “The Art of You” and the Hot at Nights’ entrancing “ACSlater”.
Other remixologists outside of the crew appear, too, including noted U.K. duo 4Hero, Swedish R&B head Pure P, and versatile producer Tall Black Guy. Pure P actually gets double billing, as his previously released funky-fresh spin on “Maybe She’ll Dream of Me” lands on the first disc. Equally addictive is his “Midsommarkransen Night’s Dream Remix” of “All Or Nothing”, a previously mellow cut that now bursts with just the right amount of bright synthesizers, hand claps, and ad libs. There’s also a rare sighting of the Randy Watson Experience, aka James Poyser and Questlove of the Roots, who breathe new life into “If She Breaks Your Heart”.
The remixes and the original songs make +FE Music: The Reworks more than your typical label compilation and/or collection of B-sides. It also doesn’t sound like a sloppily thrown together collection of remixes, a problem that arises more often than not on albums of this breed. There’s a clear sonic vision that’s defined on here as soon as “So What If It Is” pulses through your speakers, and it doesn’t fade until you hear the final kickdrum of “ACSlater”.