Steven A. Clark
The Lonely Roller
Do you ever come across a release and think, “How the Hell is this not huge yet?” That’s the easiest way to go into this wonderful debut, even if it’s a tad bold. To be fair, it’s a great time for quality R&B anyway, with The Weeknd and Frank Ocean proving that you can take your music and lyrics seriously and be successful; you don’t have to dumb it down for the weekend club warriors. That’s a good thing for newcomer Steven A. Clark, whose semi-autobiographical lyrics tell of a darker side to R&B. As he says, “Rhythm and blues ain’t all candy and hearts… Tapping into the darker side helps make a song more real, and keeps things fresh.” Steven’s music finds a perfect balance of telling these truer to life stories within the context of shiny, bright music.
Really, The Lonely Roller‘s cover art serves as a fair representation of what to expect: shiny Miami-nights-style 80s electro pop meets up with the self-reflecting R&B of a night alone in a motel. There are times when this bright-meets-dark mesh could go wrong. For example, album standout “Time Machine” is the closest the album gets to outright 80s synthpop, with a throbbing beat and bright, cinematic melodies. They belie the story of an ex wishing she never met Steven. In lesser hands, the darkness would contrast too sharply with the light. With Steven’s surprising songwriting chops, the result is a playful, almost sarcastic retort to reconciling regret. Did I yet mention that Steven is a fantastic vocalist? Even if he’ll never be mentioned among the greats, his ability to soulfully craft catchy hooks is impressive, especially on a debut.
That gets at the heart of why The Lonely Roller is so impressive: it has heart and style. Steven’s synth-fueled exploration of his inner demons is captivating in a way that recalls the aforementioned The Weeknd and even Kanye’s 808s & Heartbreak, but Steven’s take doesn’t feel silly or overly dramatic. I’ve touched on the R&B that is the soul of The Lonely Roller and the electronic undercurrent that fuels the record, but it’s Steven’s pop songcraft that elevates this from simply another charming exercise in soulful crooning. With excellent, catchy tracks like “She’s In Love”, “Time Machine”, and “Not You”, Steven has released one of those records that comes out of nowhere and dominates your playlists. If it weren’t for a couple lesser tracks, we’d be talking about an album of the year candidate; regardless, this is one not to be missed for fans of quality pop, R&B, and/or synthpop. (Nicholas Senior)