I remember exactly where I was the first time I heard Sylvan LaCue’s Apologies in Advance. It was a Friday afternoon in January, the day of its release, and I was driving home from work. The album played in the background as I zoned out, allowing other thoughts to occupy my attention. I remember finding the album’s concept intriguing; an entire album centered around an anonymous group therapy session interlocked with Sylvan’s own brand of therapeutic lyrics.
I found Sylvan’s voice to be comforting, his swift cadence filling every moment of empty space, but after the sixth or seventh track, I moved on, unflinchingly, having convinced myself I had heard enough to form an opinion. I knew I liked what I had heard but I never took the time to consider what, specifically, I actually liked about it.
I've experienced a lot of days like that particular Friday in January—wandering thoughts and an inner monologue pulsing in my head, bludgeoning anything and everything that tries to grab my attention. That’s what an anxiety disorder feels like. Soon thereafter, I came to find out that my lack of motivation to put an end to these thoughts is what clinical depression feels like.
I’ve heard some people describe depression as feeling like drowning, but for me, it felt more like drifting because drowning eventually ends. I’ve dealt with anxiety and OCD for nearly 20 years now, but whereas the worst anxiety feels like a perpetual hurricane of emotions, depression feels likes drifting in an endless sea, surrounded by thick, claustrophobic fog and a tide that turns against you no matter which way you paddle. I’ve had these bouts before, cycles of reclusiveness at work, discomfort amongst family and friends, and even isolation from my girlfriend. Without a guide, wading through that fog can feel damn near impossible.
In the midst of these bouts, what I rarely notice, or attempt to correct, is how much I lose sight of the things that I enjoy the most. The most pleasurable things become numb and ineffective, and knowing how to course correct, even with therapy, can feel like mental calculus for my uncleared mind. Moments of clarity—a clearing of the fog, if you will—do occur, but time is precious. If I don't act immediately, I'll quickly find myself adrift once again.
Those moments of clarity are the foundation of LaCue's Apologies in Advance; I just wasn't able to recognize it until recently. For the first time in a long time, I found myself slowly going back to both individuals and works of art that delivered small slices of levity. Hanging out friends became easier again, I became more present in my relationship, and I began listening to and writing about music again. Although it had been five months since I had pressed play, and with depression disrupting everything in my life more than ever, Apologies in Advance sat somewhere in the back of my mind, just waiting.
When I pressed play for the second time, Apologies in Advance didn’t slide into the background. The young and vulnerable voices in the anonymous therapy group sprung to life. It felt like listening to own thoughts. Not the negative inner monologue I had grown all too familiar with, but the voice I had found countless times in my own therapy sessions. Strong voices, clear-minded and articulate, and ready to heal.
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Ironically, as the opening song on the album, “Best Me,” began to play, I lost focus of everything around me but the juxtaposition at the heart of the material. Sylvan is a young man trying to improve his well-being but he's shackled by his own imperfections. At that moment, I didn't just sympathize with Sylvan; I was him. He mentioned Robert Frost’s theory about becoming your own “captain,” and as a person struggling through my own endless drift, nothing had ever felt clearer.
As I rolled through the following tracks, the same ones I had glossed over several months back, I found more and more of myself in every inch of the album’s construct. “Head Games,” a song about the desire to be productive but becoming your own worst enemy, “Selfish,” a melodic anthem about the battle between self-care and taking care of those around you, and the tragedy of sacrificing potential progress to find peace in one’s self on “Coffee Break” felt like lyrically painted scenes from inside my apartment on my worst days. Even “P.O.M.E,” a haunting and personal tale of Sylvan’s upbringing in which he describes being “born and raised in the belly of Leviathan,” helped remind me that, no matter how specific his story, his personal demons still fit within the much larger, and more relatable narrative of what causes pain and mental anguish in the first place.
In January, I was unable (or, perhaps, unwilling) to parse through the dialogue found in the first few therapy session interludes (listed as "steps") in any meaningful way. But without those interludes, I may have never returned, nor would I have understood Sylvan LaCue’s own story in such an affecting way. Although never outright stated, each interlude touches on an aspect of mental health, which Sylvan makes clear in his own style of writing and rhyming. You can sense he was once the flawed, drifting soul as much as he’s now the clear-minded purveyor of this project. He mostly raps at breakneck speed, almost overwhelmingly, as if the ideas he wants to share with us are so precious, he’s afraid of losing them at any moment.
That is what anxiety and depression amount to as well; the unfortunate circumstances of feeling like you can never take a moment of clarity for granted because you’re not sure when the next one might come. This is also what makes the group session tracks on the album so impactful, knowing that the battle for each of children to find peace only really begins when the session ends. Just like me.
The most realistic facet of the album is that, despite Sylvan’s powerful closing track (“5:55”) and his only speaking role in the group session on “Step 12: Apology Accepted,” the album's close brings no finality. Apologies in Advance is not an album about solutions as much as it’s about awareness and the acceptance of problems. It's a work of art that serves as a red flag. It’s about understanding the importance of vulnerability and taking control of one's own healing process even if controlling the source of the pain isn't possible.
In Sylvan’s closing monologue, he says that he's “done just being in this emotion. Done just going through these things. It’s time to fucking heal.” Even for someone as self-aware and open as Sylvan, the path to healing is a long one. In my worst moments of depression, I was unable to comprehend the power in that message. Now, I understand that if the fog eventually rolls back over, the healing process can begin once more by refusing to accept otherwise.
Apologies in Advance is an album that asks listeners for the same vulnerability that it gives in return. Five months after I pressed play for the first time, I was ready to accept that deal.