Painting by Doron Langberg

Grammy-nominated internet darling Omar Apollo attempts to expand upon his signature avant-garde R&B stylings, but struggles to find the proper footing across his new pleasant but scattered EP, “Live For Me.”

“Live For Me’s” cover image is a brilliantly vivid and striking oil painting of Apollo done by New York artist Doron Langberg. The aesthetic reference that immediately comes to mind when looking at the cover is the work of Sam McKinnis, who painted the cover image for Lorde’s brilliant sophomore record “Melodrama.” But if anyone was expecting “Melodrama”’ levels of artistic auteurism from Apollo’s project, they’d be somewhat misled. 

“Live For Me” opens with the project’s lead single, “Ice Slippin,” first released in August. Pensive piano notes support Apollo’s contemplations as drums round out the first verse. “If I take back my words, would you return to me,” he asks. Rather than assigning the mournful lyrics and somber sound to a breakup, he details a near car crash after coming out to his parents. “Ice slippin', swear to God, could've hit the brakes, steering wheel locked, almost said ‘Fuck it,’” he details. The twinkling piano carries throughout until turbid synth takes over, further emphasizing the weight of his words. “And you thought what you said/Would be for the best/But instead, you broke me down,” he admonishes. The song opens the EP on a promising note with a detailed narrative that chips away at the online trolling persona many have come to recognize Apollo for. 

The EP’s title track follows, once again delivering on promises of introspective, emotional numbers meant to stir something within listeners. Apollo layers up his vocals just to strip them away the next instant, adding to the intended melodramatic tone of the project. “How you feel about the way your life is goin'?/Tell me why you'd wanna go through it alone,” he asks before delivering his biggest question. “Won't you live for me?/Or could I live for you?/There's nothing I won't carry/So you don't have to.” 

His layered vocals and the meditative instrumental create a magnificent, almost cinematic blend that evokes supercuts of images from one’s own memory database to accompany the music. It’s no secret that Apollo possesses an impressive vocal range, especially for a male singer. During the song’s chorus in particular, he seems a bit overly ambitious to demonstrate his range — but would be better suited to keep things in his succulent middle-register. He never wanders into pitchy territory, but his voice sounds more strained than necessary. 

What some voices online have deemed the “Frank Ocean-ification” of Apollo is in full effect on “Angel.” Layered vocals further dramatized by a considerable amount of autotune sound almost identical to some of the sounds on Ocean’s magnum opus, “Blonde.” Some of Apollo’s intonations could fool even the biggest of Ocean’s fans into thinking their elusive idol lent background vocals. The song’s contemplative subject matter emerges upon a more focused second listen, but the similarities to Ocean’s work distract along the way to interpreting the lyrics. Apollo and Ocean were reportedly romantically linked last year — if true, it may explain the sonic influence. (Rest assured, the jokes have been made.) Lines like “Too young to grow wings, too young to bе an angel/Your mother needs you, woah/Your father needs you,” illustrate an Apollo afflicted with a deep melancholy. But no matter how earnest the lyrics may be, the song still can’t help but sound like a “Blonde” reject. 

The EP closes with “Pilot,” which was originally intended to be released on the deluxe edition of 2022’s “Ivory.” Apollo blends his irresistible middle-register with a healthy amount of sing-rapping made signature by songs like “Tamogatchi.” Buzzing synth and bass distort as he details, “Vacay ruined, where are my hoes?/I been lookin’, I don't know/Drivin' home drunk kinda buzzed on my birthday.”  

In some abstract way, the song sounds like it’d fit right into the closing scene of a dramatic coming-of-age A24 movie that leaves the viewer in deep contemplation as the screen fades to black. The song’s nonlinear structure and scattered sonic effects keep in theme with the Frank Ocean influence, but are vastly more effective than that found on the other songs. “Pilot” wraps the EP up on a beautifully ruminative and thoughtful note. 

Listened to individually, each of “Live For Me’s” four tracks stand fairly strong. But collectively, the EP sounds somewhat disjointed and struggles to maintain cohesion. His debut album “Ivory” hosted an array of musical styles and experimentation, but the contrasts were afforded enough space (16 tracks, to be exact) to make their collective impact and complement one another, piece by piece. Perhaps one or two more tracks, or a simple interlude that would create some sense of sonic flow, would strengthen the EP as a whole and allow it to make a deeper impact. But that’s one of the pitfalls of releasing an EP, there’s only so much room for ideas to become fully-formed.

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