For fans of Miguel and Frank Ocean, Steven A. Clark may be the freshest addition to the pop/contemporary R&B pantheon. His album Lonely Roller, which was released last September, rides an emotive rollercoaster of themes about fighting love, yearning for love, and letting the adrenaline of love throw one’s arms up right before the drop into epic unknown. It’s Clark’s talent for lyrics and ability to tell a story that makes Lonely Roller captivating — an album that could double as an audiobook.
From the beginning title track, Clark establishes a narrative of two people irresistibly attracted to one another during a weekend trip to Vegas. With handclaps and catchy, club-ready rhythm, I could feel the butterflies in my stomach at the slow, resisting moment between the two characters as they pull at each other through unblinking eyes and hungry, pursing lips. This club banger theme of two people magnetized by each other’s duende is echoed later on the retro-styled, synthetic sax-sparkling “Time Machine.”
The story continues into “Trouble Baby”: the honest lyrics about only knowing how to break hearts create a vibe similar to a Frank Ocean tune. Dramatic vocals that sound like they’re being emitted from a speaker system give “Trouble Baby” an appealing trippiness.
The ensuing tracks unwind the romance I was rooting for in the beginning. “Not You” is an honest admittance, through guilt-sodden vocals and tear-filled percussion, of wanting to be in love–just not with the person who’s in love with him. On the ‘80s-inspired pop track “Can’t Have,” Clark sings of a girl who claims to not believe in fairytales, but he makes the point that if it were a perfect world he wouldn’t have been, “distracted by them other girls.” Then Clark tells the tale of an “Ex beauty queen/Amongst other things/Face made for the big screen,” who enjoys the sumptuous pleasures of life in the city on “She’s in Love,” with slight disappointment in his voice.
Clark begins to sketch hachures of darkened seriousness onto the pages of this narrative. He does so via severe instrumentation, giving the album Kanye-like grit. “Bounty” includes a full chorus, sluggish beat, psychedelic instrumentation and catchy handclaps. The choir theme is carried into “Floral Print,” which sounds like Clark is reading the gospel behind a pulpit due to his use of organ and powerful vocals. “Part Two” has similar scarlet-colored severity to it, and I wouldn’t have been surprised if Kendrick made a visit on the track.
The narrative ends with “Young, Wild, and Free,” a song which offers smooth, sensual warmth that is yearned for throughout the record. It leaves Lonely Roller on a seemingly happy, hopeful note, but with enough playfulness that causes an eyebrow raise; I felt like an accumulation of all the girls he has been singing about, questioning love even when it’s presented. But as Clark sings, “Take my hand/Are you ready?” I found myself replaying Lonely Roller from the top. Yes, Steven A. Clark, I’ve been ready since track one.–Rachel Haney