Back in elementary school, you likely would’ve found singer-songwriter Phil Beaudreau and producer Dawaun Parker of AOE in the Gifted & Talented program. Parker’s a multi-instrumentalist who scored a Grammy for his work on Eminem’s Relapse and boasts production credits with a bunch of rap’s A-List (Dre, Jay, and Kendrick). And Beaudreau’s no slouch either: a triple threat with “visual artist” on his résumé, he produces mind-bending animations (see: “I Know I’m Right”).
While both artists grew up Providence, RI and attended Berklee College of Music together in 1995, they only connected more recently. Parker manned the boards for Beaudreau’s 2014 solo effort Ether, and the duo subsequently formed AOE (Ambassadors of Earth), and signed to Def Jam. Their first official collaboration, the six-track Homecoming, dropped in March of this year.
It was worth the wait for the stars to align. The EP opens with the “Quiet Storm” retro feel of “Never Know Me”, a track that soon unfolds into a high-def, epic panorama of sound. Call it alt-R&B or future soul, if you like. What’s certain is that the rhythms on Homecoming will challenge your ears, as only an album crafted by two Berklee grads would. “Gone” opens on a sublimely skittering snare & high hat loop, presaging the mournful theme of abandonment. And on strongest track, “I’m Right this Time,” the constant ebb & flow of the backing organ and beat might have you double-checking your headphones connection. Still, once you lock into the rhythm and hook, the track grows into a highly rewarding earworm that’ll have you hitting replay.
Speaking of headphones, this album deserves them. Throughout Homecoming, the way that Beaudreau’s rich vocals float atop the production flourishes from Parker (check the gorgeous synth arpeggios on “My World/R Evolution”) would easily justify the purchase of a new set of Bose or Sennheiser cans. The EP seems like the picture-perfect fulfillment of AOE’s mission statement: “We make music for the heart and visuals for the mind’s eye.”