Steve Lacy Delivers a Clinic in Mood on ‘Apollo XXI’: Review

We quickly realize ‘Apollo XXI’ is a jam session of one, and that one is a compelling auteur.
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Steve Lacy Delivers a Clinic in Mood on ‘Apollo XXI’

Working as a member of The Internet, as well as with Kendrick Lamar, J. Cole, Solange, and a handful of other heavyweights, Steve Lacy needs little introduction. The singer-songwriter-producer has had an illustrious career at just 20 years old. Releasing Steve Lacy’s Demo in 2017, fans have since been hungering for a fully realized solo work. On one hand, 20 seems rather young for a debut album, but on the other, it feels as if we’ve been waiting for ages for Lacy’s formal studio debut.

With the release of Apollo XXI, Steve Lacy, in all his funk and R&B glory, is here to satisfy—and satisfy he does. Lacy’s astral cool vocals are splashed against a bevy of tugging instrumentals; you're pulled into his orbit, at first struggling to hear him, and then, struggling to imagine ever not hearing his themes.

Pinnacle among these themes is “Like Me,” which opens with a note of insecurity and admittance. “How many out there just like me?” Lacy sings of his sexuality. There's a claustrophobic feel to the track. The fear of coming out overtakes the instrumental, but his resilience overpowers everything. It's a salient moment of overcoming that deserves to be celebrated. Just as Tyler, The Creator did, Lacy is bringing sexuality and the normalization of LGBTQ+ issues into the pop culture zeitgeist.

Sonically, there are the lovely funk overtones on “Playground,” and an impressive falsetto on “Guide.” Lacy's musical range has nearly tripled; from “Dark Red” to the lovelorn “Lay Me Down,” he has grown from a dabbler in the R&B arts to a true craftsman. His ability to find pockets in skittering drum lines and equal ability to evoke unexpected melodies and synth lines is a treat.

His vocals dance on the surf of the production of “Love 2 Fast,” another highlight, where Lacy digs into his insecurities and shortcomings, his fears and the premonitions that come with the concluding and swelling tides of love. With its soaring guitar riffs, this song is the mantra of the album. We listen, and we know why, exactly, Steve Lacy made this album.

At times, the songwriting skews traditional, especially on “Hate CD,” where love is compared to a glorious high, and an unwieldy come down. The writing is appropriate for the tone of the record, but does leave us desiring Lacy push himself further into the specific, self-aware, and dynamic, as he does on “Like Me,” “Love 2 Fast,” “N Side,” and “4ever/Outro Freestyle.”

Apollo XXI is a fabulous clinic in mood. Apollo will feel rewarding for both Internet fans and Steve Lacy fans. There are jam band sensibilities to this album, but with climbing guitar riffs and calling background vocals, we quickly realize this is a jam session of one, and that one is a compelling auteur.

Yet, therein lies the problem with an insular debut—the subject matter of the album is Steve Lacy, his talent, his heart, and his future. If you are invested in Steve Lacy, this will be a satisfying and becoming album. If you find Lacy to be nothing more than a musician, it stands to be seen how this album will move you.

Standout Track: “Like Me”
Best Bar: “Got me thinking ‘bout how things decay, and about you.”
Favorite Moment: The soundbite with Syd before the final interlude.