It’s just so odd to write music rooted in electronic instruments and have it turn out sloppy. Imagine if The XX weren’t Elliott School attendees and just decided to throw some bleeps and bops on top of some bass and electric guitars without any real musical sense. The result would be deflating, frustrating and most of all, a hard listen. You would want so desperately to buy into it yet you couldn’t force interest in something that felt so incomplete.
That’s the problem plaguing Sonny Apollo’s “Adventures In Paradise” EP (to note: Sonny Apollo is the stage name of Joshua Diggs, who grew up in Frederick). At a crisp 21 minutes and 43 seconds, it’s so easy to want to like these six songs, but because there’s something missing in the music’s execution, the set amounts to a bit of a letdown. He wants to be soulful, he wants to be poppy, he wants to provocative, he wants to be Interesting (with a capital I). Yet what he doesn’t understand is that trying to be too many things at once simply makes you look like you’re trying too hard.
And still, there are things to value. “Scream” retrofits ‘80s pop soul in admirable ways, borrowing just as much from Talking Heads as it does David Bowie as it does Prince. An electric guitar wins points for trying to funk things up between verses but then the bass guitar struggles to line up with the electronic groove. It’s such a fixable misstep that one can only conclude that the Frederick native wasn’t willing to put in the required attention to detail to make the song work. Conceptually, it’s a fine piece of art. When it comes to execution, however, the questions begin to mount.
Maybe that’s why something like “High” works in the ways it does, even if it is uniquely milquetoast. Written for the European dance clubs that made Cher relevant in the ‘90s, it’s almost too simple, unapologetically bland and never meant to be heard anywhere but a place that has strobe lights. That said, don’t sleep on its peak, which goes down when Apollo kind of/sort of goes for an insane high note and kind of/sort of halfway gets there. R&B fans might skip it, but it does suggest the singer has an admirable level of versatility that can only gain him more followers.
Another moment that could garner him more supporters is “Zoo,” which features some killer saxophone, tasteful atmospheric keyboard parts and the same live tribal drums that appear on “Rings Of Saturn.” Even better is the use of the choir that backs Apollo as he hits a particularly sketchy vocal moment less than halfway into the track. Topping things off is the funk guitar that returns with more stability and better placement than it had on “Scream.” All-around, it might just be the EP’s best track.
Not the EP’s best track? Opener “Suicide,” which embodies all the problems Sonny Apollo faces. Clearly not one to shy away from the dramatic, these songs struggle to paint the artist in the earnest light through which he so obviously wants listeners to view him. In some ways, his chanting of the song’s title feels on the verge of parody and that’s never good. Sure, the synths are a fine lush backdrop, but lyrically, the singer comes across as someone who needs to hone his craft. If he wants to be taken seriously by others, he needs to quit taking himself so seriously.
And while that might sound like a forgivable problem, it’s actually at the core of why “Adventures In Paradise” doesn’t resonate. There’s a lot of talent here — and some even better ideas to boot — but the easiest thing to see through in all forms of R&B is inauthenticity and unfortunately, Sonny Apollo has trouble with that. At the end of the day, this set adds up to one song that chants the word “suicide” ad nauseam and five others that are so explicitly sexual, you begin to wonder when — or if — any intellectual depth will appear.
Such is why “sloppy” isn’t just the word to describe the music here; it’s also the word for Sonny Apollo as a lyricist. “Tonight, I’m going to go home with a brand new toy,” he asserts on “High.”
How about a book?
** 2 STARS OUT OF 4 **