The Foreign Exchange

Love in Flying Colors

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The title of the fourth Foreign Exchange album is so corny that the back cover might as well show Nicolay and Phonte, together with their dozen-plus associates, leaping over an airstrip with ear-to-ear grins. Once the serene strings on the closing "When I Feel Love" fade out, it's clear the title is absolutely descriptive, as the prevailing mood deeply contrasts with that of the racked Authenticity. If there is a bridge between the two albums, it's third track "Better," in which Phonte rhymes matrimony with acrimony and sings of being healed. Second to that is chamber folk-soul ballad "Listen to the Rain," where Phonte is overwhelmed, "lost inside this pain," but that segues into the speedy drum'n'bass ballad "Call It Home," where the spirit starts to lift and turbulence is counteracted with optimism: "Sunny days are rare/But I'd follow you almost anywhere." Otherwise, from "Feels so good, love's flying high" -- Carmen Rodgers' invigorated chorus on opener "If I Knew Then" -- to the blissful duet finale featuring Jeanne Jolly, Love in Flying Colors is about the rush and delight of falling in love. As usual, almost all of the instrumentation is performed by Nicolay. The uptempo tracks of his City Lights, Vol. 2 were something of a warning flare, though the bright synthesizer-laced grooves here are a little funkier and more musical. "Right After Midnight" is prime modern boogie, while "The Moment," the best track Blaze never made, is soulful house hotter than +FE Music: The Reworks highlight "So What If It Is." Phonte, who has developed into an exceptional singer, is supported by several co-lead and background vocalists used in a variety of imaginative ways. Each guest appearance is worthy of mention, but Gwen Bunn's entry -- for the last verse of broken beat throwback "Can't Turn Around" -- adds a jolt like no other. In 2013, it takes a certain level of bravery to make R&B this open-hearted, joyous, and musical. U.K. acts like 4hero, New Sector Movements, and Bugz in the Attic were doing it in the early 2000s, but none of them put it together quite like this, in one concentrated shot, with the songwriting on the same high level as the productions and arrangements. This crew is elite.

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