Whenever I hear actors speak about their craft, the thing I’m most struck by is just how few of their actions on-screen are detailed explicitly in the scripts they bring to life. Even when they’re reciting their scripted dialogue verbatim, actors are constantly making deliberate choices about how to deliver their lines, how to orient their body language, and which emotions to convey.
If Omar Apollo were an actor and his career’s trajectory was a film, the bold output he’s released over the last year would fall closer along this spectrum to the successful swings of Leonardo DiCaprio than the disastrous whiffs of Nicholas Cage. Across his new EP, Friends, the young songwriter makes the types of risky choices that weren’t necessarily scripted for him when he initially made a splash with his guitar-driven ballads back in 2017, but nonetheless showcase his instincts as an artist.
These bold choices are evident from the opening notes of Friends. Reminiscent of Prince’s classic song, “Kiss,” “Ashamed” is an unapologetic funk jam that calls to mind few contemporary comparisons, save for Janelle Monáe and Childish Gambino. Grabbing your attention immediately, the song is compositionally dense, though not inaccessible, improving upon some of the genre sensibilities Apollo experimented with jarringly on his previous EP, Stereo.
Considering the somewhat uneven results of this past tinkering, Apollo would have been forgiven for pivoting back to the compositions he'd found success with previously, but his choice to double down on this experimentation instead showcases a daring streak of ambition.
Carrying on in a similar, albeit more understated vein, the song “Kickback” features playful melodies and a fat bassline that feels plucked straight from The Internet’s last album, Hive Mind. Not to be outdone, the disco-influenced track, “So Good” captures an analogous feeling, featuring a familiar groove that recalls the pop-leaning production of 1980s Quincy Jones. If Apollo were simply looking to make dance music, the easier path for him would have been to embrace house or EDM sensibilities, but by harkening back all the way to disco, he took a greater, more fruitful risk.
Marking just as visible of a departure from his early output, Friends benefits immensely from Apollo’s embrace of folk music. Channeling Nico’s classic 1967 song “These Days” on the EP's title track, Apollo gets fittingly confessional, singing about how his relative youth makes his romantic strife feel comparatively more dramatic than it may be. Relatedly, conjuring comparisons to Bon Iver on the delicately harmonized song, “Hearing Your Voice,” Apollo doesn’t stray too far from this topic, singing about the painful yet sometimes inevitable allure of long-distance affection.
The choice to embrace a new soundscape is not bold in and of itself, but in this instance, it's Apollo's choice to lean in entirely that is. He's not superficially embracing folk how Post Malone does, aping the melodies of Fleet Foxes, he is adopting the folk ethos more broadly, emotionally bearing his soul on record, as is so customary within the genre.
By oscillating between genres, Apollo melds his seemingly scattershot sensibilities into a cohesive package, all while using the tools he has at his disposal: an incredible singing voice that is oxymoronically both controlled and vulnerable, an ear for song structure, and a mastery of the guitar, which continues to play a starring role in many of his songs’ compositions.
His willingness to experiment outside of his comfort zone, however, may be the trait that best sets Apollo apart from his peers. Much like Leo metamorphosized from Jack in Titanic to Jordan Belfort in Wolf of Wall Street through a series of deliberate choices, the choices Omar Apollo makes across Friends has transformed him from a promising talent to a future potential star.
Standout Track: “There For Me (Interlude)”
Best Bar: “Change it all except for me / Don't take back what's meant to be”
Favorite Moment: The spoken adlibs on “Trouble”