Omar Apollo’s first full-length album Ivory, released April 8, is his most experimental work yet, exploring alternative and hip-hop genres while never straying too far from the artist’s R&B roots. Slipping seamlessly between English and Spanish, Apollo uses layered harmonies and effortless falsetto to create a dreamy, intimate atmosphere. His soft and velvety voice is reminiscent of FKA twigs, and his distorted guitar riffs call to mind the electric synth energy of Yves Tumor — but the soul is all his own.
The titular opening track is the perfect introduction to the album, enveloping the listener in a warm, silky embrace. “Do you want me to sing you asleep?” he croons, inviting listeners to sit back, relax and dream along with him. The transition to “Talk” is abrupt and a little jarring, characterized by rapid-fire chord repetitions and a staticky synthesized voice. Yet, the choice makes sense for a song about the overwhelming highs and lows of rushing into a relationship.
“Invincible” is easily the highlight of the album, with Daniel Caesar delicately delivering the soft chorus and Apollo effortlessly rapping the verses. The ache in Caesar’s voice is unmistakable as he calls out, “If I were to go/ Tell me, would you notice me?” The music video for the song is a fever dream of seemingly unrelated memories pieced together. Tender moments between the pair are made bittersweet by their large masks, which cloak them in anonymity.
However, the momentum lags in the middle of Ivory, as the songs blend together in a streak of tears and bedroom-pop reverb. The melodies are less interesting, and the heartbreak becomes repetitive and starts to lose its tenderness.
However, the energy and emotion kick right back up at the start of “Tamagotchi” with Pharrell Williams’s signature four-count opening beat. The song’s chaotic production — which layers in samples from French Montana’s “Pop That” — is reminiscent of Brockhampton (if Kevin Abstract dipped his toe into Latin trap).
Meanwhile, “Waiting on You” is a simpler, stripped-back ballad where Apollo and his guitar take center stage. He patiently yearns for affection that one day may be returned: “Pace ‘round, sitting down, wishing for a sign/ That don’t come, I’ll stay here as long as I’m alive.” Similarly, “En El Olvido” is an acoustic beauty, taking the form of a Mexican folk song that sounds like it was recorded beside a campfire in the middle of the desert. While Apollo is a master of rap and R&B, it’s clear that this is the genre his voice was made for.
Apollo collaborates with Kali Uchis for the second time on “Bad Life,” but unlike 2020’s “Hey Boy,” her short contribution on the second verse feels like an afterthought. It’s a shame, given how perfectly their voices blend together. Nonetheless, it’s fitting for the album’s penultimate song; the collaboration captures the fuzzy feeling of waking up after a dream, cozy and not quite ready to return to reality.
Though bending genres can sometimes come off as inharmonious, Apollo deftly weaves together elements of indie, soul and rap on Ivory with the strong thread of lyrical consistency, silky-smooth vocals and a solid creative identity.
Contact Asha Pruitt at [email protected].