Every Summer has a soundtrack. Be it the Summer dance anthems that characterised your late nights in Ibiza, the off-the-beaten-track indie number that accompanied you through South America, or the feel-good pop album that will now and forever take you back to the lazy days and barbeques. For the fully fledged funkaholics amongst our generation (myself included), we await that one masterpiece of an album; a go-to for our daily fix of soul-warming, groove-shaking bass lines from June through to September. After months of disappointment from artists expected to be the providers of Summer funk, my album of the Summer has arrived. Filled with luscious grooves, fluttering falsettos and the sexiest of lyrics, it is of course Steve Lacy’s hotly anticipated debut album, Apollo XXI.
Although the name might be unfamiliar to most, Lacy has been writing songs and collaborating with the crème de la crème, as well as being guitarist of the Grammy nominated soul/funk band the Internet. Most 20-year-olds are pretty chuffed when they can add lasagne to their arsenal of achievements, let alone collaborating with Tyler the Creator, Kendrick Lamar, Kanye West, Solange, Vampire Weekend, Goldlink. But now, finally we are able to see Lacy emerge as his own artist with his own sound.
In his interview with i-D magazine, Lacy described Apollo XXI as his ‘journey – an expression of how I feel right now’. This is certainly true for the sound of the album, following his progression from Guitar Hero to creating all of his music with nothing but his phone to writing in studio. But it is even more so lyrically, with regards to his sexuality. In each song he expresses moments of pondering, moments of realisation, and above all A LOT of rated-R sexiness. From ‘Baby, touch it / Rub it slow’ to ‘Tell me is it inside?’, Lacy is very much bringing sexy back. Or just sex. Yet despite the explicitness of his lyrics, the way he sings about such intimacy is both relaxed and fragile, beautiful and unashamed. Where many artists’ attempts have been known to become clichéd or borderline offensive, Lacy avoids those traps in his artful expression of sexuality.
Shifting focus from Lacy as sex-god to Lacy as musical genius, there is a fluidity to his sound that creates a sense of boundless space. One where his light falsetto is free to float around, lifting you with it. But whilst this featheriness can often cause songs to feel irresolute, as it occasionally did with some of The Internet’s tracks, Lacy’s riffs and groove-cutting bass lines keep the album tight. For whilst songs like In Lust We Trust and Lay Me Down carry the dreamy and ethereal bedroom vibes, the funk gets turned up on preceding numbers, Guide and Playground, with the latter being the definite star of the album. Sounding like a fresh hit off of a Prince album, Playground’s groove and fullness carries the sound of strutting down the streets in Summer. A renewal of old school soul-funk that has hit the spot.
And it’s not only Prince that we hear seeping through. On Love 2 Fast we hear a psychedelic haze not dissimilar from Mac Demarco’s sound, 60s Hendrix guitar on Hate CD, and the current hip-hop trends of Tyler the Creator and Chance the Rapper on Like me. And as much as I have made him sound like a tribute act to the whole music industry, he is far from being so. Picking from this range of genres and influences like grapes from a vine, Lacy creates a collection of tracks that are both vintage in effect, yet totally fresh and most definitely his own. Like a Pinot Noir perhaps; silky, charismatic, and at times unpredictable. An iron fist in a velvet glove.
It’s certainly hard to be original in a time when genres are constantly being broken down and ‘new sounds’ appear with every album release. However, by delving just the right amount into the experimental, without overthinking it, Lacy has given us the album that many of us wanted and everyone needed. Time for us all to ride on down to funky town…
Summer, you may begin.
[…] that hits the sweet spot; think the voice of Alicia Keys with the bass-funk of Thundercat or Steve Lacy. Add a seal of approval from Anderson Paak himself and we’ve got ourselves a new leading lady. […]