The Indiana singer-songwriter brings his seductive falsetto and clever production touches to a short, sweet debut EP of bedroom pop and throwback soul.
Omar Apollo taught himself to sing and play guitar the true millennial way: using YouTube videos as a guide. The Chicano singer-songwriter and producer grew up in Hobart, Indiana, and got his start at the end of 2016, when he was still a teenager, with a string of SoundCloud loosies: a brew of bedroom pop and slinky R&B that offered proof of a natural-born talent. Stereo, his debut EP, is a cross-cultural pleasure trip that further builds out those early ideas, showcasing a colorful palette that glides across genres and eras.
The title track offers a preview of Apollo’s most alluring qualities: dreamy guitar-driven production, soothing vocals that slip seamlessly between Spanish and English, and a lovesick pen. He avoids banality by reshaping each element from track to track; electric bounce on one, acoustic slow burn the next. No matter how forlorn the lyrics, Apollo’s consistently honeyed sound attracts the ear. “Erase” would be a run-of-the-mill breakup ballad if not for the way it feels more sentimental than bitter, like he knows the relationship hasn’t yet reached the end of the road. He pleads his case in warm tones over tremolo guitar and a crisp drum groove, impassioned but not stricken.
Similarly, when he sings, “Got into some bad love, now my heart’s a mess,” on closer “Amor Malo” (“Bad Love”), he doesn’t sound nearly as regretful as it looks on paper. Adoration seeps from his voice, which makes it all the more convincing; he’d likely do it all over again if he could. But Stereo isn’t simply dulcet crooning. On the disco-inspired “Hijo de Su Madre,” he slips between rapping and a glistening higher register. He brings the funk on “Ignorin,” with a little help from a squelching guitar and playful drums. His staccato falsetto‚ a clear callback to Prince’s style, creates a sharp contrast to the rest of the song’s suavity.
Even with a deep bag of tricks to pull from, he’s at his most striking when he goes back to the basics. The EP’s centerpiece, “Ugotme,” is the only one of his original singles reprised here; with nearly two million plays on Spotify, it remains his most popular song to date. It’s not hard to see why: Apollo’s buttery vocals and bluesy guitar make for a sublime combination befitting the enamored lyrics. Like most of his songs, it’s short and sweet, smoldering for a fulfilling but far-too-quick two minutes. But this one sticks with you much longer, tapping into something that is familiar and comforting—an old soul operating in a new time.
That Apollo folds pieces of his heritage into the mix further sweetens the deal, as popular music (like the nation itself) continues to reckon with the visibility afforded to brown people. The stakes may be higher for Apollo, who is a first-generation Mexican-American, but Stereo is a breeze that promises romance even in heartbreak. As a debut, it’s an abridged but still effective introduction to a triple threat of an artist with plenty to offer.
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