The 22-year-old multi-instrumentalist Steve Lacy out of Compton, Calif. might be the most prolific musician who’s only been legally allowed to drink for 19 months. Still just scratching the surface of his prime, Lacy joined neo-soul group the Internet back in 2014 when he was still in high school and hasn’t looked back. Having already worked with a wide variety of collaborators and producing parts of multiple Grammy-nominated albums, Lacy has cemented himself as one of the most exciting contemporary musicians of the decade. Just as the decade comes to a close, Lacy released The Lo-Fis, a treasure trove of demos and ideas for the dedicated fan.
At first glance, The Lo-Fis may be dismissed by some as a “filler” album, an album released between projects, an “unfinished” album. The album’s 15 tracks clock in at a hilariously short 25 minutes, and the album cover resembles a hastily thrown-together collage from Lacy’s camera roll. Many of the songs are barely over a minute long, and a few don’t even reach 60 seconds. But stylistically, Lacy embraces the, well, lo-fi feel the album gives, and those intrigued enough to listen are rewarded with an intimate look into his musical mind.
Lacy makes his album lo-fi in a few key ways. A few of the tracks are clearly more ideas than they are songs. “Cocky Girl," for example, is less than a minute with barely any vocals but it still flows well in the context of the overall album. “Bars. 16” is 16 measures of a drum loop, and some guitar and bass with Lacy cooing soft, wordless notes in the background. “I think I should” features just an acoustic guitar and Lacy’s voice, but it still fits and doesn’t sound out of place. There’s no filler because each track contributes to the collection of sounds and ideas displayed throughout the album. If The Lo-Fis was rife with songs clearly meant to be singles and high-profile features, the instrumental and experimental tracks would stand out more as potential filler. But ingeniously, Lacy styles the entire album around this type of song so that each track, no matter how short or weird, is meaningful.
Steve Lacy stays true to the album title throughout, as many of the tracks feel like a more stripped-down version of a usual Steve Lacy song. On tracks like “Uuuu” and “Out of Me Head”, there are still the classic elements of a Lacy tune such as jazzy guitar chords, catchy vocal harmonies, and instrumental breakdowns. But they lack the louder, poppier production of songs on his 2019 full length release “Apollo XXI”, and even his 2017 EP, “Steve Lacy’s Demo.”
The Lo-Fis has plenty of interesting elements, including a tantalizingly funky keyboard sound used on a few songs, and an amusing lazy, stoner rap verse on the opening track. However, the album’s most redeeming quality is the way it makes the listener feel like they’re looking directly into Steve Lacy’s mind. The bare-bones production style and lack of high-end technology used gives a very intimate feeling, a feeling furthered by the simple but captivating album cover consisting of images from Lacy’s adolescent days, and the straightforward, honest lyrics. “Thats no fun” has skits throughout in which someone complains to Lacy about how he’s not the same as he once was. The song is about Lacy changing as a person, but also mirrors the musical change clearly demonstrated by the content of the album. Undoubtedly, this is Lacy in his rawest, purest form.
Musically, The Lo-Fis is almost a class on how Steve Lacy creates his music. Most songs on the album only have drums, guitar, bass, and Lacy’s voice, which demonstrates the musical elements he deems most essential and the musical foundation from which he likes to work off. This also allows his voice to take center stage on some songs, more so than usual. “Donchano” goes from just drums and bass to a vocally and melodically dense chorus, which illustrates just how much of an instrument Lacy’s voice really is. Lacy shows his listeners just how little he needs to make music, a perpetually positive message in encouraging young artists to do what they love.
One song that epitomizes the entire project is “Out of Me Head.” At over two minutes, the song is longer than most others on the album. The only lyric, though, repeated eight times, is “Can’t get you outta my head.” Sometimes, you don’t need much to say a whole lot.