There’s a sense of self-assurance, a laidback timelessness, to Steve Lacy and his music that belies his age. He’s only 24, but on much of new album Gemini Rights, he sounds like the kind of veteran bandleader who cut his teeth in the pre-internet age, focused on pulling together a perfectly-rounded aesthetic from little more than technical chops and the atmosphere of whatever room he’s in. That’s not to say his sound is anachronistic or pastiche-y – sonically, most of this record is plugged directly into the contemporary zeitgeist, whether that’s ‘Mercury’ leaning into the kind of cod-bossa-nova slink that the PC Music crowd have all been throwing themselves into lately, or the lateral Brainfeeder groove of ‘Helmet’ – rather, that Lacy has the kind of easy charisma most people don’t achieve, if at all, until far further into adulthood than he is today.
Perhaps that’s not so surprising when you realise how much he’s packed into his short career so far. He’s produced music for The Internet, Kendrick Lamar, Denzel Curry, Solange, Mac Miller and so many more, and has featured on releases by Vampire Weekend, Fousheé and others. Not bad for a kid who started out making finger-beats on his iPhone in Compton.
Gemini Rights is his second full album, following 2019’s Apollo XXI, and, on a technical level at least, it’s just as accomplished as his obvious confidence in himself would suggest. There are several really strong tracks here, and a couple of great ones, with ‘Bad Habit’ perhaps the pick of the bunch. It’s the most yearning, melancholic moment on the record, a lovely stop-start groove anchoring a fluttering procession of melodies delivered perfectly by Lacy’s elegant vocal. It’s one of several moments on the album in which Lacy echoes his former collaborator Dev Hynes – it could fit neatly into Hynes’ 2018 Blood Orange record Negro Swan – and that makes sense, really. A multi-talented producer, bandleader, session player, vocalist and performer who melds classic R&B tropes with an expert ear for genre fusion? That could be either of those two.
As a full record, it’s not without flaws: occasionally, the lozenge-smooth nature of the production allows some tracks to drift into coffee-table politeness, and on those stretches of the album that are given more over to easygoing groove or pseudo-improv, you do start to miss the understated hooks which give songs like ‘Bad Habit’ or the Fousheé-featuring ‘Sunshine’ their melodic focus. But such shortcomings are easily forgiven; the self-assurance of Steve Lacy is far from unearned.
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