Album Review: Steve Lacy’s “Apollo XXI”


Erin Chun

 Steve Lacy’s debut album “Apollo XX1” successfully establishes his distinct neo-soul music in the music industry with tracks that stick to Lacy’s iconic bass-and-drum formula at the cost of sacrificing potential experimental sound production and musical evolution.

On Friday, May 24, 2019, Steve Lacy dropped his anticipated debut album, “Apollo XXI.” His excited fan base had been eagerly counting down the days since his new project was hinted at months prior. Despite only releasing a demo titled “Steve Lacy’s Demo,” occasionally dropping singles, and collaborating with other artists before “Apollo XXI,” his audience was quick to realize Lacy’s talent, creating an unquenchable need for more of his productions that was left unsatisfied until now.

As one of Lacy’s most avid fans, I waited impatiently for weeks for his album to drop, and nobody could have one-upped me in my excitement for his new music. However, as I finished my first listen of the entire album, I found myself slightly disappointed. The album is certainly not bad, but it falls short of what could have been great. It almost felt rushed in the sense that there seemed to be no cohesive narrative to the tracks. It sounded more like a collection of singles than a collective musical story. Furthermore, after a full listen through the album it became apparent that Lacy’s intent with Apollo was not to experiment or take musical risks, but rather, to further establish his current sound and play it safe with music that does not stray too far from his comfort zone.

There was also a slight inconsistency throughout the album. While several of the songs, such as “Only If,” “Playground,” “Amandla’s Interlude,” “N Side,” and “Basement Jack” blew me away right off the bat from their production and melody, others sounded a bit bland comparatively. As the album progressed beyond “Basement Jack,” the tracks got lost in a small wave of songs like “Lay Me Down,” “Hate CD,” and “In Lust We Trust,” that each only comprised of one to three core chords. After “In Lust We Trust,” the songs began to blend together. This is not to say the songs are bad, however I found that it took a few more listens to be able to fully appreciate Lacy’s vision. These songs possess a rare trait where instead of finding yourself losing interest after each listen, the tracks actually stand out more and more each time they are heard.

“Amandla’s Interlude” is the one song that immediately caught my attention in the entire discography. It is a stark contrast to the rest of the album as it does not conform to Steve Lacy’s distinct neo-soul bass and drum kit reliant sound he played safe with as seen in all of the other songs within this album. It serves as a refreshing break against the constant punk beat from the rest of the album, and forces the listener to pause and truly listen to this beautiful melody with their eyes closed. One cannot help but slightly sway along to the song, cry and laugh at the same time, and breathe a sigh of nostalgia or happiness while hearing its tune, as this track manages to simultaneously evoke feelings of sadness, remembrance, and hope. This was the most adventurous song on “Apollo XXI,” which may seem to be a strange statement due to its soft and non-experimental melody, but the fact that Lacy was willing to take a break from his usual sound in order to produce a track like this speaks volumes about his maturity and talent as an artist to produce such diverse and amazing music.

“Apollo XXI” ended with “Outro Freestyle/4ever,” a track that sounded different from the rest of the album as it branched slightly away from the alternative R&B funk sound, and opted towards a slightly darker, beat-reliant song that showcased his raps instead of his vocals. His last words on this album were literally “outro” repeated several times, a non-serious yet straightforward way to end an amazing debut album.

The LP is approximately 43 minutes long and contains 12 tracks in total that fall somewhere in between the categories of R&B, Pop, and funk, but the exact genre of Steve Lacy’s songs is left a mystery. He has a very specific sound that is instantly recognizable through the GarageBand drums and the iconic bass melodies, and these two qualities are incorporated into “Apollo XXI,” giving it the Lacy vibe his fan base has all grown to know and love.

Grade: B+
Release Date: May 24, 2019