Steve Lacy’s Teenage Dream Comes Alive
At an age when most Americans are working on college applications, Steve Lacy already has a Grammy nomination. The 18-year-old joined up with Californian R&B outfit The Internet as a guitarist and producer, earning widespread accolades for 2015’s “Ego Death.” Like a neo-soul Wu-Tang Clan, each member of the group is now releasing solo material to be played on a collective tour. Following projects by Syd and Matt Martians, “Steve Lacy’s Demo” is out now. It is a brief collection of taut pop-funk tunes, far more sophisticated than its title would suggest.
The songs on this EP are all focused on young love. It’s a well-trodden subject, but Lacy’s lyrical point of view is youthful without being juvenile. Opener “Looks” is only long enough for one verse and two choruses. “I want you and you want me,” Lacy sings in nursery-rhyme cadence, but he ultimately concludes that “looks ain’t enough.” Elsewhere, he repeats “I hate you just as much as I love you” in a deadpan tone. Rather than sounding petulant, Lacy suggests the same psychosexual angst that powered Prince jams like “Lady Cab Driver.” There are no revelatory insights to be found here, but it’s a compelling portrait of young romance, or the lack thereof.
The music here is perfectly in line with his work on The Internet. Lacy chops up live drums into loops that echo early hip-hop. While he does not show off in a traditional shredding sense, the guitar parts are immaculate. Bass and lead dart around each other in fits and starts, filling in the vast space between drums and vocals. The groovy arrangements are all the more impressive considering Lacy used bare-bones software Garageband to produce them. Despite its February release date, this is a collection that begs to be heard in sunnier weather. Even within this template, Lacy makes room for a variety of styles. The Neanderthal beat and garage-rock chords of “Dark Red” recall Oasis. Immediately following, “Thangs” is a sluggish bass-heavy groove, hazy like barbecue smoke or sunlit blacktop.
The clear highlight is “Ryd,” another entry in the quintessentially American songbook of car-as-sex metaphors. “Speeding down the backstreet,” Lacy croons under falsetto harmonies, “I’m tryna get you in my backseat.” The stuttering drumbeat is equally suited for slow dancing or appreciative head-nodding. Lacy’s guitar playing is impeccable here. He illuminates the jazzy chords with gorgeous fills that match the drum rhythms while playing off the vocal hooks. “Ride with me,” he asks on the chorus, and the offer is tempting. Don’t be surprised to hear this echoing from rolled-down windows all summer.
“Steve Lacy’s Demo” is ultimately all too brief. With six songs in 13 minutes, none pass the 3-minute mark. It’s a canny move for an unproven artist: the hooks are sticky enough to stand out, while the occasional clunky melody does not stick around to bother. It certainly leaves the listener wanting more. Whether working with The Internet or solo, Steve Lacy is one to watch.
Originally published on NDSMCObserver.