After forming an unlikely allegiance years ago, The Foreign Exchange released a stellar stream of albums and built a devoted fan base that remain connected to their music. While continuing to assemble the tightly knit collective of collaborators associated with their imprint and collecting a Grammy nomination, +FE has continued to place themselves at the forefront of the electronic-soulful movement with other genre bending artists that push musical boundaries. And now, they are back with their fifth studio album. It’s Love In Flying Colors, which is a light-hearted, evenly polished album that speaks to the complexities of love and relationships; topics that can be quite mundane and emotionally taxing. But this time around, The Foreign Exchange presents it in a way that’s less weighty adding more understanding and sophistication to one of the world’s greatest mysteries.
With only ten tracks, the album is shorter and doesn’t have as many transitions and open instrumental fields allowing for a more tightly connected work. The guest features list is heavier but we still see Nicolay serving as the primary instrumentalist with Phonte maintaining his space as the pulse within the music. This album also shows Nic expanding the +FE sound and going deeper into previously explored soundscapes while Te’s voice reveals a more experienced singer. And though the album has some minor pitfalls, it’s still a welcomed addition to an already impressive resume.
Like that infamous plus sign that represents their uniformity, the album opens with the +FE signature audio brand that quickly dissipates and glides right into “If I Knew Then” featuring Carmen Rodgers. A jubilant synth infused track, Carmen and Phonte create a welcoming and carefree atmosphere as they chant, “Feel so good loves flying high.” “Better”, featuring Eric Roberson and Shana Tucker, speaks to +FE’s hip-hop roots and might also take you back to their Leave It All Behind days i.e.“ Take Off The Blues”. This song is the perfect example of Te’s instinctive ability to toggle between soul crooner and skillful emcee while Shana Tucker remains vocally coy but adds a dynamic layer to an already plentiful track. And though Eric Roberson plays his part, Phonte was strong enough to stand alone as the sole male vocalist.
“Listen To The Rain”, which also has Zo! on the boards, is the heaviest song on the album lyrically with Phonte laying down his troubles over an exquisite sound bed surrounded by a luxurious string arrangement courtesy of the Soulchestra. Up-tempo gems like “The Moment”, “On A Day Like Today” and “Right After Midnight” featuring Sy Smith all maintain an airy, joyous energy to groove to while “When I Feel Love” featuring Jeanne Jolly closes out the album on an exceptionally high note with poetic lyrics that show the dynamic chemistry between her and Phonte.
Like previous albums, Love In Flying Colors continues the tradition of Phonte as the contemplative and introspective core of +FE reflecting on the minutiae of love, relationships and what happens “when the party’s over” but he’s even more refined with how he approaches these topics. Though we see less of the charming and effervescent Te’, it’s good to hear him in a place where he’s buoyant and still candid enough to musically paint on a true to life canvas that represent most people’s realities and not some forged storyline that lacks any true merit. At times, Te’ can stretch his voice more than it should go, but it is still much more concentrated this time around and shows signs that it’s truly evolving into an instrument that can still slay 16 bars but coast over an electric soul track with no qualms.
And Nicolay, who remains as their savvy musical conductor, has an innate ability to continue to push +FE’s sound to new heights without it becoming completely unrecognizable. You’ll hear quite a few elements of the broken beat genre that artists like 4-Hero have perfected where we see a lot of drum shifting with odd time signatures, but Nicolay was still able to customize those rudiments to carve them around the +FE reverberation. We’ve seen hints to this musical evolution especially on Authenticity and Nicolay’s City Lights albums but he’s streamlined these sounds to melt all of these songs to make an interconnected album with tracks that are structurally related. You still get those electro-soul/Hip Hop pieces but we also hear new wave/classic eighties sounds with heavy synthesizers and drum machines merged with standout pianos, acoustic guitars, and sumptuous strings that make for an album that’s soundly opulent.
We also see more guest appearances on Love In Flying Colors than any other album since Connected doing away with the centralized female vocalist that serves as Phonte’s musical muse (Yahzarah-Connected, Muhsinah-LIAB, Chantae Cann-Authenticity). There are some conventional features (Sy Smith, Jeanne Jolly, Carlitta Durand) with a few (relative) newcomers to the +FE fold (Eric Roberson, Carmen Rodgers, Gwen Bunn) but most of them add to the compositions no matter if they are leading or playing the background and bring another dimension without ever overshadowing Phonte allowing him to still display his growth and continue as the soulful nucleus of the album.
Love In Flying Colors truly represents where +FE has been and where they are headed with elements of the old and new. Some songs weren’t as enjoyable (“Call It Home”) with a few moments of over-singing and unnecessary features. But in the end, it’s a mature, enjoyable album that offers many layers with much replay value that will prove why fans appreciate Nicolay and Phonte’s authenticity and remain connected to The Foreign Exchange.
4 out of 5
You can buy Love In Flying Colors on Amazon.