Literary critics call it intentional fallacybasically, that the author’s intentions do not matter and that it’s up to the readers to determine a work’s meaning. That said, we are holding Nicolay Rook and Phonte Coleman responsible for making an album that leads us straight into the upcoming presidential election.
Indeed, in many ways, Leave It All Behind, the second installment in The Foreign Exchange series, is perfect political forethought. Not to suggest that anything about this project is glued to social importance like Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On” or even Erykah Badu’s “New Amerykah,” but it does seem all too suspicious: When The Foreign Exchange’s Connected was released in 2004, we were at a stage when the country’s political climate suggested that, in order to deal with the prospect of another four years of the Bush cabinet’s worldwide bullying, you had to adopt a survivalist attitude. Connected couldn’t be too dreamy because it’d be a lie. Continuance was staring us in the eyes, and the assumption was that everyone had to stay strong for another term until someone, anyone came along to help us out.
Here we are. In two weeks, you’re going to be either monumentally pissed off or partying with the rest of the Obamaholics. As you’re reading this, you’re probably harboring the same political anxieties as I am in regards to what could be the grandest swing in the history of American politics. Leave It All Behind sounds redemptive, then, the perfect soundtrack for legitimate change.
Of course, using an album like Leave It All Behindwhich, to many, simply addresses the wins and woes of love and relationshipsto examine and predict the direction in which the country is going politically may be a lost opportunity to examine the music at hand. But it would be intellectually remiss to ignore the connection. Each song glows with the fluorescent, promising and profound absurdity that, yes “We must say our goodbyes to all of the pain and the lies/ but nothing’s been more true than these words to yo,” as Coleman sings on “Valediction.” We’ve been “changed and re-arranged/ but it’s not like it was before.” Yes we can, right?
Neither Rook nor Coleman set out to make Connected II here, to repeat the past. There needed to be growth because that’s what they’ve been doing personally: Rook recently exchanged wedding vows. Coleman, who’s been dumped by a major label since The Foreign Exchance last spoke, recently told Seattle’s DJ Hyphen that he’s at a point where he’s not “as married to rap music and emceeing” as he used to be. Outside of the two times that Coleman decides to rap here, the only thing that really carries over from his skill set as an emcee is the songwriting. On Behind‘s lead single, “Daykeeper,” Coleman, in a ghostly, yearning swoon, sings, “Waiting for the daylight/ ‘cuz then she’ll keep me/ in the safety of her arms/ she never leaves me/ and when the sun rises she watches over me.” Essentially, Coleman suggests he’s safe during neither night nor day, but he’s waiting for protection.
Vulnerable moments like this give this album its political credence. What if, by any unfair chance, we’ve all cast our votes for the same candidate and we don’t get the outcome we expect? Is our “House of Cards” going to fall? That duet between Coleman and singer Muhsinah, which borrows its title and part of its chord structure from Radiohead’s song of the same title, suggests as much.
Hope comes through in the end: Rook’s galumphing snyth-stomps provide the platform for Darien Brockington to deliver his pleasing share of bedroom begging on “All or Nothing,” complete with Coleman’s background feathering. The track ends with a nice tempo shift. In the most gorgeous of ways, Coleman’s voice crackles throughout Leave It All Behind, doing the sort of thing one would expect to hear after swallowing a firecracker and singing. On “Something to Behold,” Coleman talks about bringing a smile to his significant other’s face by bringing her a 12-piece batch of chicken wings (fried hard) on her lunch break. Ultimately, the song is a toast to fortune. It’s an open acknowledgment that what we’re witnessing as Americans is joyfully historical, one can hope. Leave It All Behind is a perfect soundtrack for these feelings. It’s music to believe in, complex without being alienating.
As Coleman lulls to his son in an ode to reconciliation on the last song and title track, “Only heaven knows what to make of these changing times…/ I know this world is so cold, but don’t let teardrops change your mind/ so for tonight, let’s just leave it all behind,” he’s also talking to us. After almost a decade of disappointment, we have a chance to start over, to renew our foundations. We will do it, and even if we don’t, we at least have an elegant album to fall back on.