Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

The dreamy album covers for The Foreign Exchange's Connected and Nicolay's new Here wouldn't look out of place on the wall of a sensitive teenage girl. In a hip-hop world rife with cartoonishly over-the-top masculine aggression, cult Netherlands beat-maker Nicolay isn't afraid to embrace the delicate and the overtly feminine. On Connected, Nicolay joined forces with Little Brother's Phonte Coleman to create an album of twilight delicacy and rare musical and lyrical maturity.

With Here, Nicolay goes the solo-artist-with-guests route, and though the absence of big (or even medium-sized) names might scare away Foreign Exchange fans, the disc marks a worthy, albeit minor, follow-up to Connected. As on Connected, Nicolay sustains a lush, endlessly dynamic sound alongside a soothing, blunted, hopelessly romantic chill-out vibe that favorably recalls the laid-back beat wizardry of Jay Dee and Pete Rock. While even the most distinctive producers can lose their footing when turning over beats to an album's worth of guests, Nicolay's strong sonic personality gives the album a surprising level of cohesion and continuity. The presence of promising newcomer Black Spade on three of the disc's 11 tracks lends it a certain lyrical consistency as well.


Where Connected managed to feel simultaneously intimate and epic, Here is much more modest in scope, with a running time that barely passes the 40-minute mark. Still, in its own humble way, Here flirts with perfection.

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