During quarantine, Omar Apollo threw out everything he’d been working on before the world stopped. Off the road and with little else to do, he buckled down on coming up with some new ideas and re-focusing his songwriting. Seven months after he – and the rest of the globe – had their plans for 2020 pushed off a cliff edge, the 23-year-old musician has ended up with a gleaming project (he doesn’t want to release an album until he can tour again) that he’s “actually proud of”.
‘Apolonio’, its title taken from his middle name, is a subtly eclectic ride through timeless funk licks, ultra-modern sensibilities and nods to Apollo’s Mexican heritage. It aches with unrequited feelings but, musically, sets the young star up as the new master of steamy bedroom jams. ‘Want U Around’, featuring Aussie singer-songwriter Ruel, is painted with soulful falsetto cries as Apollo sings of a relationship gone sour. “I’m missing you/Took me for granted, ain’t that what you wanted,” he sighs over a sultrily slow bass groove, punctuated by muted guitar strums.
On the squelchy ‘Stayback’, which was remixed by funk legend Bootsy Collins last month, he’s transfixed with someone but can’t summon up the words to tell them. He’s in a similar mood on the bright indie rush of ‘Useless’, unable to function “when you’re stuck in my mind”. ‘Kamikaze’, meanwhile, feels like the soundtrack to a night drive with only your own thoughts for company. In Apollo’s case, his mind is sent back to someone he used to be into and “wondering if you’d call me”.
Some songs feel a little undercooked or cruelly short. The Kali Uchis-featuring ‘Hey Boy’ – probably the sexiest of this project – deserves to be far longer than one-minute-and-42-seconds. Closer ‘The Two Of Us’, though, consists of the same chorus repeated over and over for two-and-half-minutes. It’s soothing and soft but adds little to the whole record.
There are lines in Spanish here and there on ‘Apolonio’, but one song in particular pays tribute to the music of Mexico, from where both his parents were born. ‘Dos Uno Nueve (219)’ does away with the modern production and funky bass, replacing them with layers of Spanish guitar picking out twisting melodies. Apollo has described the song as a corrido, which has its roots in Mexican rural working-class culture and often tells stories of oppression and daily life.
In his take on this traditional form, Apollo laments his past struggles when “we didn’t have anything to eat”, but celebrates his current successes. “I want to earn many more zeros,” he asserts on the chorus. “And enjoy what I have.” Based on ‘Apolonio’s striking songs, he’ll be able to do that for some time to come.
- Label: Warner Records
Release date: October 16