The Genius Of…. Apollo XXI by Steve Lacy
The American multi-instrumentalist’s debut album feels like a museum of music past and present, from soul, to R&B, to punk, and to pop, which is no easy feat to accomplish on your first LP.
Image: David Wolff – Patrick / Redferns
Steve Lacy’s Grammy nominated Apollo XXI may not be a decades-old gem of the sort that this feature usually covers, but the importance of Steve Lacy and this 2019 album in encouraging a new generation of guitarists and musicians should not be understated.
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Lacy’s debut solo album followed his years as the guitarist of the band The Internet which he joined in 2013 at only 15 years old, upon which he would write and produce songs on his iPhone using an IK Multimedia iRig to get his guitar into his device. His first solo EP, Steve Lacy’s Demo, was also solely written and produced on his iPhone.
In an interview with Carhartt back in 2018, Lacy admits that the iPhone was “all I had at that time,” He continues. “Thanks to the people, they paid for my laptop and other gear I use now. But sometimes if it’s all I have, like yeah sure, I’ll still do it. But it’s not my primary way of creating.”
While Apollo XXI was shaped using a more professional recording and production set up, his DIY influences can still be felt, which is something that made and still makes Lacy such a notable guitarist and musician.
Versatility is key
Lacy’s versatility despite writing and producingApollo XXI between the ages of 19-21 is considerably inspiring. From the twangy sitar heard in opener Only If, to the slapped bass in Playground, to the punky rhythmic groove in Hate CD, the versatility and breadth contained in a 12-track album is impressive, and can certainly be credited to the amount of time it took to construct the album. Lacy admitted to Zane Lowe in his Apple Music podcast that a large part of this had to do with being tied up with The Internet.
“With me being such a free spirit and making stuff with so many people and being in a band, I leave very little time for myself,” says Lacy. “So, it was really two years freely making music, because that’s what I do in my free time and then one month of curating and then finishing when I was on the road with the band. I couldn’t really finish. By brain wasn’t in the creative space because I was on tour, so I was just making the folder of potential ideas. That folder had about 50 songs ideas and beats so when I got back and had that one-month break, that’s when I had to curate my museum, and that’s what happened.”
A museum, Apollo XXI certainly is. The heavy bass in Guide, the fifth track on the album, is reminiscent of early 00s Red Hot Chili Peppers, while Love 2 Fast takes listeners on a sonic journey through the dreamy soft-pop of the guitar that made a sudden resurgence as the Gen-Z listenership gained their musical autonomy. Apollo XXI feels like a collection of music past and present, from soul to R&B, to punk, and to pop, through the lens of the teenage prodigy, which is no easy feat to accomplish in a debut album.
Fuelling a generation
What started off as a new means to create music, resulted in the birth of a new generation of composition for the newest generation of music fans. Lacy cannot be solely credited for the boom of Bedroom Pop, but he is certainly one of the founding fathers. While the building blocks of the genre stem from how the music is created, there is a certain intimacy is the resulting product as it provides artist with an autonomy to follow their own musical direction, rather than that of producers and record labels, something that is apparent from Apollo XXI, even though this album was created in a studio.
A track where this flair is brought to the fore is Basement Jack. While a seemingly short tune, Lacy’s sovereignty to guide his own music is especially apparent, as we hear the swirling fingerpicking in conjunction with the futuristic synth and heavy drums. Playground, the third track on the album, which was initially released as a single alongside N Side, continues this intimate yet creative independence witnessed in Lacy’s earlier tracks such as Deep Red and C U Girl, both of which were created on his phone. Floaty vocals intertwined with the punchy strum of the guitar.
Of course, creating music in your bedroom, being independent of all control is not a new phenomenon, but Lacy undeniably made it fashionable. The multi-instrumentalist made guitar players and fans alike want to take out their phones and bare their souls in this un-glamorous and vulnerable way, and that is something to shout about.
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