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Gentlemen, raise your hands if you’ve been here: You meet “the one,” that woman who you just know is the best thing you’ve ever encountered. Then, you embark on what promises to be an astonishing love affair of deep infatuation and refreshing spontaneity.
But soon you analyze the relationship and aren’t thrilled with what’s there, and you’re forced to sever the bond. Or, maybe she’s the one who leaves, pulling out the rug from under your feet. Then you stomp around with your favorite liquor and swear off love forever.
It appears that Phonte Coleman‘s been there before, if The Foreign Exchange‘s new album, Authenticity, is any indication. On 10 of the album’s 11 songs, the North Carolina native and his friends mangle, twist, and dropkick Cupid all over Nicolay‘s dark and simplistic soundtrack, while also looking within themselves to assess what went wrong. Simply put: If the group’s last project—-the remarkably glossy Leave It All Behind—-showed reverence for one of life’s great mysteries, Authenticity is a disgruntled and dejected middle finger to said mystery.
The group doesn’t waste time setting the mood, as evidenced by the restless and ominous bass line on “The Last Fall,” the album’s frenetic and addictive opener. It stands out not only for its clean sound, but its unforgiving honesty. “Loved you good, and you wrote heartbreak in the sky/Never could walk away, she’s too easy on the eyes,” Phonte sings sarcastically at the song’s outset. “Wanna scream, wanna curse, wanna cry, but I’m much too numb to care.”
The Foreign Exchange front man doesn’t let up on the album’s barren, Prince-influenced title track, which plays like the innermost thoughts of an exasperated man struggling to find his place in a relationship. On “All Roads,” however, Nicolay provides an impressively off-kilter, piano-laced beat over which Phonte seems to question his thoughts of fleeing the relationship. “Fight For Love,” which features frequent collaborator and Silver Spring resident Zo! on the piano, isn’t so much a battle as it is a blatant surrender. The album’s calm conclusion, “The City Ain’t the Same Without You,” finds D.C. native YahZarah providing the female perspective on an otherwise testosterone driven album, making what appears to be a last gasp effort to save the faltering connection.
Ultimately, Authenticity showcases the individual and collective growth of The Foreign Exchange. Dutch producer Nicolay is known for his dense and sleek recordings, but here he strips his sound, leaving room for Phonte’s burgeoning abilities as a songwriter and composer. The duo’s new album won’t help you find love, but it could help you stay in it.