POP/ROCK

Omar Apollo "God Said No" (Warner Records)

A failing romance can spark enduring breakup songs. Consider Taylor Swift, Shakira, Bob Dylan, Beck, Joni Mitchell, Björk, Fleetwood Mac and, now, Apollo, with his second full-length album.

Apollo, 27, was born and grew up in Indiana, the son of immigrant parents who shared their Mexican traditions with him. He emerged on SoundCloud in the late 2010s as an alt-R&B songwriter with echoes of Prince, hip-hop and indie-rock, singing largely in English and occasionally in Spanish. Apollo's full-length debut album in 2022, "Ivory," gave him a TikTok-powered, platinum-certified hit: "Evergreen (You Didn't Deserve Me at All)," a self-questioning ballad with echoes of the 1950s and electronic overtones.

"God Said No" plunges more deeply into the raw, unsettled, often contradictory emotions of a crumbling relationship. Apollo sings about sorrow, regret, doubt and disbelief, along with bitterness, anger and lingering desire. It's not a clean break with one side to blame; it's far more complicated.

Most of the new album sounds deliberately modest, verging on low-fi. Its tone suggests troubled thoughts and uncomfortable conversations, small-scale and introspective — seemingly private, not overtly theatrical.

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.

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?"

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." A few songs later, he insists 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. He's bereft, but trying to stay guarded. Yet he's still clinging in "Dispose of Me," a swaying slow-dance tune that urges, "We got too much history, so don't just dispose of me." And in the album's finale, "Glow," Apollo sings, "You're my only one, I can promise that," over swelling synthesizer arpeggios. Then he pleads, as the arrangement falls away, "Before you leave, give me one more dance."

The album ends. But the yearning continues.

JON PARELES, New York Times

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