taking a listen

by Ryan Snyder

reviews of local & state music CDs


Considering the overwhelming buzz it has garnered over the blogosphere in the week since its release, it almost feels like a faux pas to come down with a contrarian take on the Foreign Exchange’s third release, Authenticity. Despite being the essence of indie music, the team of Durham emcee Phonte Coleman and Dutch producer Nicolay came so close to breaking through with the Grammy nomination garnered by “Daykeeper” off of 2008’s Leave It All Behind. It was such a genuine, resonant effort that one couldn’t help but get behind the do-it-yourselfers. Maybe it’s the same kind of underdog complex driving the hype behind Authenticity, but it’s hard to give the same kind of love that Leave It All Behind so deserved. For one, the indie-soul tag hanging from this one is a bit of a ruse; this is clearly the most commercial effort out of the trans-Atlantic duo, which had to be expected after coming close to taking home the big prize. The potential was there possibly all along; now they just knew to try and capitalize on it. The plan this time around seemed to be to borrow elements of their past successes and add textural electronic superfluities, but the result is an album full of components that just don’t feel at home or as expertly arranged as they did on the last album. At first listen, “The Last Fall” feels cluttered and cumbersome. The dark synth, agitated backbeat, misplaced piano strokes and erratic emotional shifts in Coleman’s voice lend an overwhelming sense of disorder to the album’s first track that lingers for the first half of the album. It makes sense in some regard that the duo was intent on establishing the sort of turbulence felt at the sudden, but not unexpected upheaval of a disintegrating relationship; this is an album that reverse engineers the gory details that simmers beneath the surface of most failed romances. But as a standalone track, it doesn’t work well. The title track makes a nice recovery though, taking a smoother and less cumbersome path by slow-cooking G-Funk riffs underneath Coleman’s impassioned pleas of helplessness. You’d like for brilliant lines like “If you could see into the future, love/ and all the hell we have in store/ would you agree to set sail with me/ or just remain on the shore” to define the album, but errant piano melodies that sound more at home scoring Grey’s Anatomy like the one on “All the Roads” stick in the craw. Coleman doesn’t assert his vocal talents nearly as much this time around, giving the record the feel of one long, meandering slow jam and while the collaborations have been a strong point in the past, Median’s rap verses on “Make Me A Fool” only detract from one of the stronger hooks on the album. “Laughing at Your Plans” perfectly marries the duos higher concept without the litany of distractions found elsewhere, but by then, Authenticity has simply run its course.