Album Review: “Ivory”


Zara Irshad

Omar Apollos latest project “Ivory” marks his evolution as an artist, ranging from soulful R&B songs to experimental pop tracks.

Omar Apollo’s long-awaited debut album “Ivory” dropped on Friday, April 8, marking a fresh, energized, and truthful new era for the alternative R&B musician. “Ivory” was announced back in February, and was followed up with a string of colorful singles that readjusted Apollo in a new and subversive light, departing from his signature hazy acoustics and approaching his work with laser-like focus.

Apollo started off his career by posting his music to Soundcloud back in 2017. When he was sent $30 along with a note that said “investing in your future” from a friend, Apollo decided to record and upload his song “Ugotme” to Spotify. The track was swiftly added to Spotify’s editorial playlist “Fresh Finds,” gaining Apollo valuable exposure and racking up millions of streams. Following his newfound success, Apollo dove headfirst into his music, writing and releasing three EPs, “Stereo,” “Friends,” and “Apolonio” within the span of three years. These projects garnered the attention of well-respected musicians such as Tyler, the Creator and Pharell Williams, the latter having produced “Ivory”’s third single “Tamagotchi” alongside Chad Hugo. 

A self proclaimed perfectionist, Apollo decided to scrap the project that he had been working on at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic and return to the drawing board. Eleven months later, he had created “Ivory.” A true labor of love and passion, “Ivory” peels back the curtains of Apollo’s shy persona to spotlight the raw and intense emotions that follow him in and out of love.

Packed with sultry pop songs, delicately layered harmonies, and lyrics that practically spill off his tongue, “Ivory” boasts Apollos range in all aspects of the creative process. It opens with a 45 second long title track that sets the tone for the project, introducing the persistent themes of longing, desire, and introspection that are laced throughout the songs. Over the course of the 16-track album, Apollo sings of sexual fluidity and self-doubt, seamlessly switching between English and Spanish on a number of tracks.

He oscillates between more experimental, production heavy tracks, such as “No Good Reason” and “Tamagotchi” and slower, softer songs like “Petrified” and “Invincible” that align more with his earlier music. The more energetic tracks are packed in the first half of the album, reflective of the confident grandeur and excitement that comes with initial love and lust. As things begin to slow in the latter half of the album, he has developed a transcendent emotional and physical attachment.

Throughout the album it becomes evident that Apollo has grown into his music both sonically and lyrically. From his raw insecurity in “Evergreen” (“Was there something wrong with my body?/Am I not what you wanted, babe?”) to his soulful confessions in “Personally” (“What we got ain’t working for me/All it ever did was change the person in me”), Apollo reaches a level of reflection and honesty that surpass his earlier alternative pop tracks. His aching yet silky vocals accompanied by his rooted lyrics feel soothing and familiar, like looking into a mirror. Between the crush-ridden anxiety depicted in “Waiting On You” and the emotional insecurities in “Go Away,” “Ivory” digs into the fractured nature of being in love that is often omitted in music.

One of the most poignant moments of the album that reflects this comes in the bridge of “Evergreen” where he sings “You know you really made me hate myself/Had to stop before I break myself.” The delivery of these lyrics builds in intensity and volume, layered with swelling music and intercut vocals that deflate right before the line “you didn’t deserve me at all.” You can hear the relief in Apollo’s voice when he sings this line. Coming near the end of  the album, this bridge feels like a culmination of the struggles that he has grappled with throughout the project.

The push and pull of the tempo and style of the tracks in conjunction with Apollos’ introspective journey that unfolds throughout the project makes for a cathartic but healing experience. “Endless Interlude” and “Can’t Get Over You” serve as the fundamental pillars of this experience, marking moments of realization and reflection for Apollo. The former establishes his desire for confidence and independence (“I know deep in me there’s everything/what if I trust myself endlessly”) while the latter directly addresses the very struggle that he has grappled with throughout the album.

“Ivory” is an album of love and loss, the rediscovery of self-identity separate from a romantic partner. We listen as lust grows into love (“Killing Me,” “Petrified”), which grows into insecurity (“Personally,” “Waiting on You”), and eventually into acceptance (“Evergreen,” “Mr. Neighbor”).

The release of “Ivory” marks Apollos departure from his alternative bedroom pop roots, proving that he has come a long way from his Soundcloud days. He has taken his passion and shaped it into a craft, welding his songs into a story, and this album into his future.

Grade: A-
Released: April 8, 2022

Image courtesy of Rolling Stone.