The particularities of Steve Lacy’s style leave the impression that you may have heard his songs before, even though you have not. He wears influence outwardly and openly, but the result remains so singularly Steve Lacy. As a fan of his group The Internet and his general production, I was excited about this project, Steve Lacy’s Demo, and it did not disappoint.
The work does not pretend to be anything. Though the cleanliness and precision of the production might convince you otherwise, it is just a series of demos. All of the songs but one have a hook and a single verse. And it makes perfect sense, as the album roots itself in a noticeably youthful lust/love — things that usually do not go that deep. The changes one feels as a result of these experiences are often in the aftermath, but this album stays in the present.
As such, I found that reading the record linearly works best. One of my favorite things about the work, however, is that it makes the most sense when you re-listen to it. The record starts with “Looks” — a meditation on initial attraction. The wah-wah effect instills this uncertainty, but the beat pushes forward, falling into itself. He’s always in his head, even when he’s not.
The next song “Ryd” opens with a beat that circles around itself, wandering aimlessly. The song centers itself and has a more light-hearted tone as it continues. Like the beat, the singer and his lover are wandering around in his car, with nothing to do; he crystallizes those moments when you have no specific reason but want to spend time together.
“Dark Red” is the emotional center of the work. It is the one song that consists of more than just a verse and a chorus. The song wanders in a more cerebral, solitary way than “Ryd” — like an anxious Mac DeMarco. Continuing to read the album linearly, we have to assume the couple’s relationship has deepened, and now he is scared. He keeps singing about how the girl is going to leave him, without expressing a substantive reason. In the bridge, with a happier tone, Lacy confesses that he might be making it all up. The follow-up “Thangs” reads as an interlude, though it is hard to tell on an album of demos. The bass opening the song sounds ominous. When the rest of the track comes in, that feeling is reduced, but the lyrics still present a problem. In the aftermath of “Dark Red,” it feels like he will do anything the girl wants for some of the wrong reasons.
In “Haterlovin,” the degree of worry dials down. On a skittering, kitschy drum track, Lacy professes he “hates you/just as much as I love.” Once again, he is in his head. Because this relationship is still progressing when he says, “trippin’ one on one was cool/’til I fell in love with you,” you get a distinct sense of a fear of commitment. This sense further contextualizes “Dark Red,” coming back to the point in “Looks” — many of the fears he places in other people also seem to be present in him.
After the angst of “Haterlovin,” Lacy comes back with “Some.” Besides sounding happier, Lacy finds himself acting as opposed to thinking —“baby, I want some of your love/your love, your love/baby, can I have some of your love/your love, your love.” Though you find him once again saying something to the effect of ‘we can do whatever you want,’ he offers concrete suggestions such as “we could watch a movie/ hit the beach, or just chill and get high.” The song functions as a product of the maturation you watch play out in real time. To push that, the coda has him crooning “I just wanna/take it slow;” he has grown patient.
Steve Lacy’s Demo is a story of love and growing up. While it is a theme that has been done before, this time, it is his story. The beauty of the work hinges on its ability to get you to understand what he is feeling and that these are his feelings. Listen to it a few times. Grow up to it. Do not, if you are so inclined. Steve Lacy just wants you to do whatever you want, and you get the feeling that he is doing the same.