It’s been over two years since Omar Apollo burst onto the indie pop scene with his 2018 EP “Stereo.” Since then, he’s exploded in popularity, garnering a legion of fans, touring twice and releasing his second EP, “Friends” — quite a different life from working at Guitar Center and putting out singles on SoundCloud, as he did before his song “Ugotme” perked the ears of millions. With the release of his latest project, “Apolonio,” Apollo continues his climb from lowkey indie darling to full-fledged pop star.
From the moment “Apolonio” begins, it’s clear Apollo is under no illusions about his ascent to stardom. On opener “I’m Amazing,” he sings, “I’m amazing, that’s what they tell me / I don’t think of that too much, it overwhelm me.” Even if the newfound success can be overwhelming, Apollo doesn’t mind showing off a little: “I’m makin’ M’s now, listenin’ to Stevie / And the whip got autopilot when I’m sleepy,” he later boasts on the same song. It’s a fitting introduction to a project that sees Apollo flesh out sounds that he’s only teased in previous releases and further develop the ones that have attracted the spotlight to him since 2018.
The album’s second track, “Kamikaze,” was also the second single released in the weeks before “Apolonio.” The song is a dazzling meditation on heartbreak and nostalgia as Apollo reminisces over a “pretty boy” he used to see over a pulsing drum that feels like his heart thumping out of his chest. The track is also one of the more explicit nods to his sexuality in his discography, a topic he’s been consistently coy about in interviews. When asked how he identifies in an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Apollo replied, “I’m just chilling.”
Apollo’s reluctance to label his sexuality is perhaps appropriate for an artist whose music resists labels in the same way. “Apolonio” is the best showcase of Apollo’s versatility yet, as he traverses from genre to genre with ease; on back-to-back tracks, he emulates Julian Casablancas and Playboi Carti. On the former, “Useless,” the Casablancas impression is apt considering Strokes guitarist Albert Hammond Jr. handles the strings, and lyrics like “And you said I was your soulmate, but that was just a lie / It’s alright, we’re way too young to be givin’ out advice” evoke the same nostalgia-tinged romantic grievances of urban youth as many of the Strokes’ songs. Despite the inspiration, though, the song is unmistakably Apollo’s — here, and throughout the album as a whole, Apollo manages to retain his own style even while drawing on the work of others.
The following track, “Bi Fren,” sees Apollo finding Carti and Young Thug-esque flows over production from DJ Dahi, who is perhaps best known for an incredible flip of Beach House’s “Silver Soul” for the beat of Kendrick Lamar’s “Money Trees.” On the song’s hook, Apollo declares, “You is not important / You a memory,” but the verses paint a decidedly different picture: “I wanna see you all night but I know you don’t care / Not in love but I’ll be right here.” The grapple between yearning for and moving on from past relationships is a theme that ties “Apolonio” together even as it extends in different directions sonically.
This theme is nowhere more apparent than on lead single “Stayback,” whose Parliament-Funkadelic influence was immediately recognizable even before Bootsy Collins joined Apollo on the even-funkier remix. Over a bassline that conjures images of Prince, Apollo croons, “You know I been feeling you since way back / But I couldn’t even make the words to say that, say that” — an ode to an (unrequited) past love that is simultaneously vivacious and poignant. The track is one of the album’s strongest points, and one can only hope that Apollo continues expanding on the funk-influenced sound he’s been exploring since “Stereo.” It’s a shame that songs like “Stayback” won’t be heard on tour for a while, where Apollo’s electric energy is truly put to use.
In fact, the lack of live performances for the foreseeable future is the main reason “Apolonio” stands at a mere 25 minutes long over nine tracks. In an interview with GQ, Apollo explained that he didn’t want to put out a full-length album without being able to support it with a tour. As a result, “Apolonio” feels like more of an appetizer than a main course. This is especially true on songs like the Kali Uchis-assisted “Hey Boy,” which, at under two minutes, is a painful tease of what could’ve been the best song on the project. The closing song “The Two of Us,” while still being one of the album’s strongest tracks, wouldn’t have suffered from another verse or two, either.
A longer project might have also helped contextualize tracks like “Dos Uno Nueve,” a Mexican corrido-inspired reflection on Apollo’s rise (the title is a reference to the area code of his hometown in Indiana). Stuck between “Hey Boy” and “Useless,” the track feels rather out of place; a full-length project might have given it some more room to fit in.
Still, the unfortunately short runtime does not mean that “Apolonio” is a weak project. On the contrary, it features some of Apollo’s best songs to date, and on the whole it is a captivating and fun yet simultaneously affecting project that gives the listener just enough music to appreciate Apollo’s consistent growth over the past two years. If “Apolonio” leaves something to be desired, that something is simply more songs, which is in itself a testament to the project’s strength. According to Apollo, that desire will be fulfilled in 2021, when his official debut LP arrives. Until then, “Apolonio” is a fantastic prelude to what will likely be one of next year’s most exciting releases.