Omar Apollo’s Exquisite Heartache

One model for “God Said No” is probably Frank Ocean’s 2016 “Blonde,” another heartbreak album awash in vulnerability; Apollo’s reedy tenor often resembles Ocean’s voice. On “God Said No,” the guitars and keyboards are tamped down and reticent; drumbeats are present but not pushy. Even when the production deploys strings, horns or Apollo’s own backup vocal harmonies, they’re subdued and distant, more like apparitions than reinforcements.

The partial exception is “Less of You,” a metronomic synth-pop track that harks back to Giorgio Moroder (along with some Daft Punk-style filtered and harmonized vocals), with Apollo wondering, “Was last night the end of me and you?” Even with a blippy hook and a chorus that shifts into a major key, Apollo sounds increasingly alone and forlorn.

There’s a loose narrative arc to the album. The songs trace a growing friction that leads to an estrangement, to testing new partners and, finally, to what might be either a reconciliation or a fond farewell. In the album’s opener, “Be Careful With Me,” Apollo sings, “I tried to be someone you liked/But it’s just too much compromise,” over acoustic guitar picking that hints at Elliott Smith. A few songs later, he insists — in a chorus that repeats the phrase 16 times — that he’s “Done With You.”

Clearly, he’s not. “I can’t let go, I should let go,” he vacillates in “Drifting.” In “Life’s Unfair,” he admits to having a fling while separated, but insists, “When I was kissing him, I was seeing you” and adds, “I would’ve married you.”

Although Apollo has nodded to Mexican music on past albums and EPs, he has Spanish lyrics in just one song on “God Said No”: “Empty,” an otherworldly waltz placed midway through the album. Its chorus plainly states, “You left me empty/Hollowed and empty.” The second verse switches to Spanish, as Apollo confesses that he can’t stop thinking about his ex, and adds, in Spanish, that he’s “singing in another language so you don’t understand me/I don’t want you to know how much it hurts.” He’s bereft, but trying to stay guarded.

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