Omar Apollo’s second EP Friends finds him a bedroom soul artist, now fully fledged and flexing his wings. After garnering critical acclaim for his more lo-fi 2018 debut EP Stereo, the Indiana-bred Chicano musician is back with a set of risk-taking songs that explore his interest in pop and funk, as well as his evident love of melody. On Friends, Omar makes it clear that he aspires to be much more than your average sadboy with a guitar and a synthesizer.
These six songs (and an interlude) hint at Omar Apollo’s significant musical and career ambition, as well as some self-consciousness. There is indie pop shaded with R&B and left-field soul-funk that would fit comfortably on a Spotify Discover playlist, if not actual pop charts. “Ashamed,” which we first heard as a single, starts off with a swaggering funk guitar and a playful but refined falsetto, but also includes a soft-rock chorus and a bass heavy bridge and outro. He uses at least four different vocal styles during the three-minute track.
Critics might suggest he’s trying to cram too many ideas into one song, but “Ashamed” is an embattled love song, and the rapid cycling through moods and tempos is well-suited to convey the emotional confusion of the lyrics. The EP is also aimed at the hearts of other young pop addicts, among whom he has already found an appreciative audience. There it will surely find its mark, especially with straightforward dance-floor confessionals like “Kickback” and “Hearing Your Voice,” a pleading pop tune just a few beats too unconventional to make the Top 40.
“So Good” is easily the high point, a funky throwback fantasy that DeBarge would have killed to record in 1981. Curiously, it was not a single, and comes right before album closer “Trouble,” a forlorn, complicated R&B tune that, in its unstable moodiness and fragile balance between funk and folk, encapsulates Friends as a statement. At some points, it seems like Omar is pushing hard to become the musician he knows he’s becoming as quickly as he can. With a Pitchfork “Rising” interview under his belt, a move to Los Angeles, and other laurels, he’s well-aware that people are watching and listening closely.
The unguarded feels, direct tunefulness, and the clever wordplay on the Stereo EP from just a year ago seem a world away from Friends, and cozy, even twee, in comparison. This growth spurt in sound and sophistication is surely not the last one Omar Apollo will go through in the near future. With that in mind, it’s best to take Friends as series of well-executed sketches from the studio of a rapidly evolving, prodigiously talented young artist, who is still finding his voice.
At the speed he’s developing creatively, Friends is likely a better indication of his intentions and where he was a minute ago, than where he’s at now. It’s fair to say we can stay tuned for a surprising and remarkable debut album at some point, and, if he’s writing for Bruno Mars next time you check on him, don’t be too surprised.
Stream the EP via Spotify and Apple Music below: