Actually listening to things random people tell me to listen: Steve Lacy’s demo

Getting music recommendations is a fun part of the human experience. When they come from a dear friend who actually thought about it and came to the conclusion that listening to the song or album they’re talking to you about will make your day better, it can be a lovely moment. But humans are pretty weird, which means that things can’t always be that simple and sweet. Music is a deeply personal thing, and it is therefore no surprise that people you don’t know won’t have a clue of what you will like or not. That bit of common sense doesn’t stop a specific brand of people to try that very thing — ladies and gentlemen, I am talking about the people we all most love to hate: our own Tinder matches.

The main thing with Tinder (and other dating apps, like Grindr if you’re a gay man, Her if you want to talk to the same five lesbians in your area over and over again, Bumble if you think Amy Schumer is hilarious and Badoo if you’re not a real person) is that you’re talking with people you don’t know. Consequently, you can’t really know about anything they might care about, and breaking the ice can be a bit awkward at first. Thankfully (or not), now that most of these apps can be connected to Spotify, music taste has become an easy opening topic. Even though I am slowly reaching my limit of opinions I can share about Cobra Starship, their presence on my profile remains one of the easiest conversation topics for getting to know future potential love interests (or, more accurately, disappointments waiting to happen).

You might be wondering what any of this has to do with Steve Lacy. Well, what I’m getting at is that often, as part of these conversations, your match will tell you to listen to something. As a follow up to this, you might tell them that you’re really busy right now (you’re not) but that you’ll get around to it (you won’t). The truth is you don’t really care about what some semi-accidental right swipe thinks you should be listening to, and who could blame you ? As a result, all of these recommendations ended up being forgotten as soon as they were given to me. Life however works in mysterious ways; and the unexpected can (and does) happen. With only a few weeks left before exams, I do have to spend more time than usual studying — but that doesn’t mean I want to give up discovering new music during these busy weeks. I needed something short and sweet that I could write something brief about — and my memory found it in the most unexpected place.

“Hey”, said my brain, “how about that 13 minute demo that guy on Tinder told you to listen to ages ago before you realized you really had nothing in common and ghosted each other ?”

I debated it for a little while, but I had to come to the realisation that it was the best idea I had at the moment. And so I decided to jump into the world of Steve Lacy.

I was already familiar with the young musician/producer/certified cool dude through his work on The Internet’s excellent Ego Death, but even though ‘Dark Red’ was on pretty much every single indie playlist ever since it came out, I had never gotten around to listening to Lacy’s solo work. Many things about this demo makes it intimidating: the young man is known as a prodigy in the contemporary hip-hop scene, and almost as a confirmation of that reputation, the demo came out when he was only eighteen years old. Not only that, but it was entirely self produced, mostly on his iPhone. Of course, it isn’t his fault that he is so ridiculously talented, but unfortunate stigma around prodigies can’t help but creep up in our expectations. What if it ends up being just too much for us common folk ? What if we can’t help but feel disconnected from a talent that only a few people can relate to ?

It is therefore pleasing to soon come to the conclusion that these judgements have little reason to be. If these six songs aren’t part of an EP or an album, that’s because they’re neither of these things: Lacy describes the project as a collection of songs rather than a coherent whole. We have a tendency to expect a lot from people who are branded as prodigies, and forget that they have just as many anxieties about who they are and what they want to make than all of us do. As a result, the demo indeed does not feel like a finished product, but it is a refreshing look into the musical universe of a young man who’s searching for his sonic identity. While the DIY methods of production and obvious funk and soul influences do give some common features to all six songs, they all explore a slightly different side of Lacy’s promising musical world.

The first two songs, ‘Looks’ and ‘Ryd’ are different in terms of instrumentation: the first finds Lacy with smoother vocals layered on lowkey bass and drums that let the guitar take the lead. It rightfully takes its place as an opening track, and introduces us rather effectively to what will follow. The second on the other hand is a bit more confrontational: not only through the explicitly sexual nature of the track, but also through Lacy’s voice, which is now where our focus is. While both tracks are catchy, they share an unfortunate characteristic in their rough nature. Both songs are good enough as they are, but by limiting himself to only one or two minutes, Lacy provokes some unfortunate frustration. It feels like listening to extracts of full songs we’ll never actually get.

The demo culminates without a doubt in the middle track and lead single ‘Dark Red’. Still continuing on the subject of relationships, it is here the production that shines rather than any lyrical brilliance (although the atypical structure of the hook is quite fun to discover and sing along to). This is Lacy at his most polished, his most thoughtful. Finally, it doesn’t feel like we are listening to a good but unfinished product, but a fully completed song. And what a song it is — its hypnotic qualities make its popularity completely unsurprising. It gives us a look into what Lacy sounds like when he isn’t scared to fully use his talent, and it definitely makes us want to listen to more of this.

Unfortunately, this hope will not be fulfilled as part of this particular project. Two other songs, ‘Thangs’ and ‘Some’, follow the path carved by the two opening tracks, with groovy synths and guitars accompanied by magnetic vocals. Both are once again good enough, but simply too short for us to get to appreciate their entire potential. The demo’s only real disappointment comes in the form of its fifth track, ‘Haterlovin’. While the will to diversify the sound of the EP is certainly admirable, with a heavy emphasis on percussions and a darker vocal tone, the song still manages to overstay its welcome at under two minutes of runtime. It is unfortunate that Lacy managed to both indulge in this unpleasant repetitiveness and leave aside other tracks which deserved more attention.

It is in these weaknesses that the demo falls short of greatness and proves that despite undeniable talent, Lacy still has a long way to go. However, the demo never pretended to be great — and that is paradoxically where it succeeds. No matter the frustration we may feel at some parts of the listening experience, we are witnessing without a shadow of a doubt very clear potential. Since the release of the demo, Lacy has multiplied collaborations with Ravyn Lenae, Kali Uchis, Tyler The Creator, fellow The Internet members and even Vampire Weekend just a couple of weeks ago. Through these, we can hear him slowly gaining the maturity that is perhaps the biggest lack exhibited in the release. It is encouraging to see that he is taking his time before releasing another full length project — but as slightly selfish listeners, we also can’t help to hope that he will do so soon enough.

So, yeah, there you go, I found good music through Tinder. An unexpected turn of events for sure. I don’t mean to be ungrateful, but can I also find love now ?

probably napping

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