SoulTracks reviews 'Glaciers'
The music man behind much of the signature tones that have come to define The Foreign Exchange (+FE) sound continues his alchemist trick of making instrumental electronic music feel organic for laypeople who swear they don’t care for electronic music. Following a tradition initially established in jazz by artists like Miles Davis and in soul by Stevie Wonder’s experimentations in Songs in the Key of Life (peaking in the woefully underrated In A Square Circle), manipulating electronic music to distill the innate robotic coldness of its confines to cultivate something emotional and resonating is a hard row. Most lean into the coldness, creating music that stretches from the industrial and dystopian to the nihilistic and metallic.

Indie-soul collective Foreign Exchange plays the Cat's Cradle (via The News & Observer)
It seems like only yesterday Phonte Coleman was just a North Carolina rapper/singer, one-third of the up-and-coming hip-hop trio Little Brother. Back then, Coleman was also exchanging music files with an Internet help desk employee and aspiring producer in the Netherlands (Matthijs “Nicolay” Rook), hoping the two could make music together.

Phonte and Nicolay remain focused on The Foreign Exchange (via Creative Loafing)
With their fifth studio album, Tales From the Land of Milk and Honey, The Foreign Exchange has perfected its sophisticated take on R&B, incorporating not only a range of sticky sweet melodies, but also a smattering of nuanced romantic themes like domesticity and compromise. But whatever you do, don't call it ''grown man music.''

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Nicolay wraps his experiences abroad into a jazzy album (via Star-News)

by +FE on June 10, 2015 at 7:55 AM · Comments
It was around 3 a.m. one morning in May of last year when the Wilmington-based musician Nicolay and his neo-soul band, The Foreign Exchange, crossed Mandela Bridge in Johannesburg, South Africa.

They were dead tired from being on tour, and only hours earlier had played a sold-out show for fans they didn't know existed.

"We'd never seen that kind of pandemonium, before or after," he said. "It was wild, Beatles-esque in that we couldn't hear (for) the entire two hours. The reception was as warm you could imagine ... These people knew all of our music and we had no idea."

The image of the multi-colored bridge remained in Nicolay's mind when he was recording "City Lights Vol. 3: Soweto," his third solo album, scheduled for release on June 9.

"The moment I saw it I knew I wanted that to be the cover," said Nicolay, who wanted the album's visuals, shot by Soweto photographers, to reflect nightlife and club life there.

"Once there, you're immediately touched by it," he said of the culture reflected in the music.

The "City Lights" releases are an itch that Nicolay - whose band was nominated for a Best Urban/Alternative Performance Grammy for the song "Daykeeper" in 2010 - scratches to be more experimental, more "out there" than a record by the Foreign Exchange. The band is a decade-long collaboration between Dutch-born Nicolay and Raleigh-based vocalist Phonte Coleman, formerly of the hip-hop act Little Brother, that began with them emailing tracks back and forth across the ocean, hence the band's name.

That process remains, even though they now live dozens rather than thousands of miles apart. For "Soweto," Nicolay composed music locally while Coleman handled vocals in Raleigh.

"My own records are always smaller projects, test tubes for ideas we execute later," Nicolay said.

That should have FE fans curious about the band's follow-up to 2013's "Love in Flying Colors." "Soweto" feels like sunshine giving way to night, beginning with the excitable "Tomorrow" and its '80s-style synths. The album doesn't sound like South Africa, necessarily. The influence is subtle, more spiritual than literal. South Africa helped the puzzle pieces fall into place, especially given that "City Lights" albums are inspired by a city or country.

"That feel and (the) intensity of the people there, and overall ambience of South Africa, (there) was a moment where I thought, 'This is the influence I'm looking for,'" Nicolay said. "I've never really done literal reinterpretation of music. It's not an album of me playing djembe. This definitely has an upbeat feel, the very sunny feel I got from being there."

There are no South African musicians on "Soweto," only a South African friend who narrates part of the album. It's not world music, though, more like a danceable love letter. "I would never call myself a jazz musician, however, I take a lot from jazz, soak that up and spit it out in my way," Nicolay said. "There was music there I listened to but (I was) very careful not to take anything of that. Rather than me taking anything, it was much more a desire to give them something."

He said the ultimate dream would be to return to Soweto and play the album live.

"It may be a pipe dream," he said. "I've given myself a year to pull it off, to go back there to show the people what they did to us."

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