Steve Lacy, has emerged from his metamorphosis. Until now, his only release was the six track EP titled Steve Lacy’s Demo, which provided a small sample size of what he was capable of apart from his band, The Internet. Both his EP, as well as The Internet’s Ego Death and Hive Mind, highlighted his signature sound: intricate guitar riffs that stick with you, and lustful lyrics marinated in his high, somewhat raspy voice. Now, that formula is as strong as ever on his full length masterpiece, Apollo XXI.
Apollo XXI is one of the best freshman albums in recent years. The guitar riffs are bigger and better, fully unfiltered without any outside influence. If he wants his guitar to cry, it weeps. The growth from Steve Lacy’s Demo is apparent — back then, it felt that he hesitated to drift too far away from the twangy style of R&B he was comfortable with. Now, he’ll follow up a song with a Beatles-esque vibe with a grittier, more cloudy sound, showing the versatility that makes him such an intriguing artist.
On the slower “Only If,” simple production and a sturdy guitar riff creates a calming essence, layering it well to keep the sound on theme without growing repetitive. The soothing atmosphere returns on “Amanda’s Interlude,” an acoustic track layered with a folksy violin. Elsewhere on tracks like “N Side” or “Lay Me Down,” he contrasts a throwback R&B format with plain guitar and bass riffs, grounded by a drum machine to give the songs a steady foundation.
Sometimes, like on “Guide,” Lacy completely discards these guitar riffs in exchange for a funky bassline or keys riff, and pick up the 808’s and give you a song that you catch yourself dancing too. There were glimpses of this variation before, but to see him do it so effectively on the same project is refreshing.
There’s plenty of lyrical diversity on Apollo XI, as well. He branches out to more complex topics, even as he retains his classic, seductive love songs. The entire album is filled with self-reflection, established in the intro track “Only If.” “If I could travel through time, I think I / Would tell myself from the past, ‘you’ll be fine.’” From there, he goes on to grapple with his own sexuality and coming out to his family, as well as the addicting and consuming elements of past relationships. Is Lacy framing his traditional song pattern in many different ways, evolving his process before our eyes.
Apollo XXI demonstrates Lacy’s talent as a musician, songwriter, and producer. He effectively creates a full length album that toys with multiple sounds, sewing it all together craft the complete package. Simply put, it’s years of guitar and production mastery coming together, creating the an album that is uniquely his.