Rather than feigning post-breakup clarity, the singer's sophomore album spans the gamut of messy emotions.
Broadly, an artist could take a handful of approaches when writing about a breakup. They could sound angry and aggrieved, chasing some sort of catharsis in calling their ex to the carpet. In less confrontational cases, a songwriter might look inward, either questioning their role in their romantic demise or lamenting how they’ve handled things since. In other instances, there are no grand declarations, and the performer’s objective is to simply have a good time singing about a bad time. Steve Lacy manages to write from all of these disparate, often conflicting perspectives throughout Gemini Rights — and does so with great success.
The Internet guitarist’s sophomore solo album is as sprawling as a 10-track effort could be. Either due to its many collaborators — more than Lacy has recruited for his projects in the past — or the duality that defines the zodiac sign in its title, Gemini Rights contains as many ideas about heartache as it does genre identities. At times, it’s a softly sung R&B album during which Lacy seems sensitive and vulnerable. Elsewhere, it’s an anthemic rock project, as the singer affects a punkish wail while bemoaning love and cracking jokes. Funk, rap, and multiple shades of jazz also help the 24-year-old blend the hues of his emotional palette.
The most musically curious and lyrically on-the-nose example of the album’s multiplicity is its lead single, “Mercury.” Over an Afro-Latin-sounding jazz tune, Lacy applies the unpredictable nature of a Gemini to an unstable relationship. “Little of heaven, little unpleasant/ I don’t know/ Little of pleasure, little depression/ I don’t know,” he sings between verses. He seems confused, flippant, and apologetic, all at once.
Gemini Rights is autobiographical but not necessarily an info dump. Despite being inspired by a real-life breakup, it lacks the sort of bedroom-written prose that’d lay bare the details of what exactly happened. This is likely a result of Lacy’s first significant inclusion of co-writers and producers in the making of a solo project.
While he has a long résumé as a musician-for-hire, producing for everyone from Kendrick Lamar to Vampire Weekend in addition to his role in The Internet, the multi-hyphenate wunderkind mostly keeps to himself when working on his own material. His debut EP, Steve Lacy’s Demo (2017), was recorded alone entirely on an iPod. For Apollo XXI (2019), his first official album, he upgraded to a laptop and stationed himself in his younger sister’s bedroom for yet another mostly autonomous effort. But while recording Gemini Rights, Lacy made use of a proper studio alongside a cast of capable collaborators.
In a recent GQ profile, the Compton native seemed to suggest the “many perspectives of a breakup” throughout his latest album resulted in personal and artistic equilibrium. “I got to translate my personality into a record, which I’m super excited about: This is a conversation with me,” he explained. Gemini Rights’ most charming moments come when that dialogue is made to feel like a group discussion.
On “Static,” the album’s somber but not-too-serious intro co-written by pianist John Carroll Kirby, Lacy toys with the sort of post-breakup boyfriend-bashing that’d go over well in a group chat or with “close friends” on Instagram. “Lookin’ for a bitch, ‘cause I’m over boys,” he jokes after poking fun at his ex’s drug habit. The song later climaxes with a caption-worthy affirmation — “If you had to stunt your shining for your lover, dump that fucker” — setting the tone for the type of vent session listeners are in for throughout the rest of the record.
The album’s production is light enough on its feet to play during a kickback at a friend’s house, while its writing contains the 2 a.m. musings one might overhear from the two exes reconnecting in the kitchen. This sort of bittersweet alchemy is most evident whenever Fousheé joins the party. The rising singer-songwriter is Lacy’s most visible co-star throughout the project. After matching his ambivalence on the aforementioned “Mercury” (“Excuse me if I lied, I forgot I said that/ Please forgive my tongue, I’ll show you where my head’s at”), she reappears for a bit of backsliding on “Sunshine.”
Sandwiched between “Amber” and “Give You The World,” “Sunshine” is the penultimate song in a three-track suite that closes the album. Each of these records resembles a love song but is ultimately something more complicated: “Amber” is about the sort of longing one’s left with when the person they love isn’t around, and “Give You The World” ends with a painful goodbye after there’s no more of the world left to be given. But of these three deceptive ballads, “Sunshine” seems the most interested in maintaining remnants of love even if the feeling itself has long faded.
A cute and flirty duet, the song finds Lacy and Fousheé reflecting on a dead romance before deciding it’s worth reviving for a one-night stand. “Sayin’ ‘my ex’ like my name ain’t Steve/ Gave you a chance and some dopamine/ Safe to say after me you peaked/ Still I’ll give you dick anytime you need,” the album’s titular Gemini sings.
Presumably, “Sunshine” features all the things Lacy wishes he had the guts to say in “Bad Habit,” a Rights single about losing love to shyness. Built around addictive melodies, endearing lyrics, and bouncy indie rock production, “Bad Habit” is immediately singable and instantly replayable. And according to Lacy’s GQ interview, it’s also the song that broke him out of a writing slump and helped snap the concept of Gemini Rights into focus.
As Lacy and Fousheé repeatedly sing, “I wish I knew, I wish I knew you wanted me,” it’s clear there’s a different type of heartache at the center of this track. No one left anybody, or betrayed their trust, or failed to meet expectations. Instead, the relationship being mourned is one that never happened in the first place. In the context of Gemini Rights, an album otherwise dedicated to a loss Lacy did endure, these are the pops of color that make such a mosaic of emotion worth admiring.
In exploring all of love’s messy scenarios, Lacy never makes the mistake of committing to one dogmatic way of finding peace. That wouldn’t be true to his sign, nor any other for that matter. Gemini Rights is searching, unresolved, and rarely ever holds one sentiment at a time. It oscillates between its author feeling lovestruck and lovelorn, sometimes within the same thought. It’s Steve Lacy’s most complex work to date and a quintessential depiction of what it’s like to have a little fun with a broken heart.