With just how long it feels like Steve Lacy’s name has been in the liner notes of tastemaker artists across a wide span of genres, it’s incredible that he’s still only 24 years old. A member of California R&B and funk collective The Internet since his late teens, he’s since crossed over with acts like Tyler the Creator, Kali Uchis and Vampire Weekend. After the TikTok’s random wheel of immense popularity was spun once again and landed on “Dark Red,” a track from Lacy’s 2017 EP, his profile as a solo artist has risen rapidly and he smartly capitalizes on it with a well-timed studio album. An accomplished producer and guitarist, Lacy brings his instrument’s distinctive and immediately identifiable beachside tones along for the ride once again. Diving into a soulful journey through his turbulent dating life with both girls and guys, Gemini Rights is topped off with an astrological tinge. While the spacey structure of a couple of these tracks sometimes doesn’t click, Lacy clearly has massive talent to spare, and he’s still just getting started.
The track “Static” is a low-key intro to Lacy’s many abilities – save for the most exciting one, his sense of rhythm, as the track is mostly sparse save for some piano chords in the back. Still, the spotlight on his striking guitar tone, a percussive staccato that still feels emotive and tender, is incredible to listen to as the parts begin to overlap and cascade. Lacy himself descends onto the track with an impressive mountain of harmonies and vocal layering as he lyrically puts the pain in the past and gets ready to put himself back on the market. The track “Helmet” immediately catapults listeners into Lacy’s more typical upbeat funk, and you won’t find many more engaging, interlocking instrumentals on the project than this one – the speedy piano trills added at the end especially send the track into another dimension. Lacy is reminiscent of an artist like Thundercat over the course of most of this project – similarly to the bass virtuoso, many of the true highlights are the instrumental breaks, while Lacy’s melodies and songwriting aren’t always immediately captivating – but that almost becomes part of the project’s charm. Lacy comes across as a highly talented musician who made some great backdrops to simply get lost in as he rants about his problems in a funny and relatable way. When he gets exasperated about being done wrong or things not working out, he has an almost Andre 3000 inflection to his voice, the believable rasp and the audible eye-rolls of a lovably goofy artist shining through.
The track “Mercury” is a movie in 5 minutes as Lacy tries his hand at a bossa nova soundscape. The minor-key eeriness and air of mystery certainly helps to tonally frame Lacy’s theatrical and paranoid lyrics and delivery as a relationship crumbles, stressing out about curses both astrological and familial causing him to act in ways he regrets. A more soft and soulful side of his voice comes out in the bridge as he resolves his problems and Foushee appears to play the role of his partner. The track is mixed incredibly well, with the click-clack castanet beat directly in the front but not loud enough to drown out the dynamic walking bassline bubbling underneath or clash with the blaring trumpets that Lacy echo with a catchy falsetto hook. There’s even a church organ. Lacy certainly paints a sonic world. “Buttons,” in contrast, is a lot more laid-back, with minimal drums, psychedelic sounds, and crunchy, lurching guitars in the back as Lacy shows gratitude for the love he’s being shown, his tone full of admiration. Dare I say, the track has Frank Ocean energy.
If we didn’t just have a surprise resurgence of Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill,” I might have said that “Bad Habit” would have to be one of the strangest and most interesting number one songs on Spotify in years. A truly addictive earworm, just about every single vocal line on this track is a hook as Lacy harnesses the funky neo-soul vibes and voices his frustrations about the one that got away. The track’s big switch-up goes off flawlessly, the driving, aggressive guitar hook fading away to a couple lines of complete a cappella in the middle before warmer chords ease their way in, Lacy’s love interest finally coming back around. The track “Cody Freestyle” takes the psychedelia and jam-session sound a little bit too far, as I’m apt to believe it’s title – Lacy’s falsetto on the track is a lot weaker than usual and the lack of rhythm on the track as he freestyles over shifting, psychedelic synth chords doesn’t connect as much as the master of funk operating at the top of his game. “Amber” brings the creativity back in full force, Lacy acting as a narrator of the story over some vintage piano chords that sound like they came from a Broadway musical or a 1950s TV sitcom theme. It’s one of the project’s most comical moments, as Lacy interrupts what sounds like it should be the most romantic track here by repeatedly belting “I wish I never met you.”
Lacy saves the project’s latest single until near the end, as Foushee, hanging around in the background for the majority of the project, finally gets a full feature credit on “Sunshine.” The track’s title is appropriate – it’s exactly the kind of thing that Lacy’s signature sound on production evokes. It’s great to hear Lacy take on a full soulful duet as the two embody ex-partners on the verge of rekindling their relationship, but the best part is the nearly 2 minutes of instrumental noodling that take up the track’s back half. Things fade out with the most traditional R&B track yet in “Give You the World,” a romantic ballad that allows a final opportunity for Lacy to show off just how much his vocals have improved since his early days.
Seeing Steve Lacy’s name at the top of the charts was certainly a surprise, but much like most of the smaller names who blow up overnight, most of the time it’s thankfully due to simple word of mouth promoting really great music. Gemini Rights is a tightly-packed 10 tracks of a talent reaching his prime during an opportune cultural moment, and most of them are highly addictive.
Favourite Tracks: Mercury, Bad Habit, Buttons, Helmet, Sunshine
Least Favourite Track: Cody Freestyle