The Artist Formerly Known as Fro-Yo Ma explores his Prince-ly inheritance on his debut album.
On Little World, Zack Villere sounds like he was born the day Prince recorded “Christopher Tracy’s Parade” and has spent his life examining his birthright. Without a Paisley Park at his disposal, Villere scales down his psychedelic pop/funk soundscape to the limits of his laptop, and his vision is less luxe—more Under the Whataburger Sign than Under the Cherry Moon. His fantasia on a budget aesthetic makes Little World compelling as Villere’s opposing impulses create interesting tensions.
Until recently, Villere recorded as Fro-Yo Ma, creating warm, videogame pastorals over hip-hop beats—cool, curious pastiches that explore acoustic textures as passionately as electronic ones. He only recently started singing on his tracks, and he does so unassumingly. His voice is right for his songs though, which present him as an average guy, someone who admits that he’s “not that cool.” His lyrics are often deliberately prosaic, underlining the seeming artlessness of his art. In “Cool,” he sings
Feeling pretty good
Life’s not bad right now
So I think I might go to this party that this girl invited me to.
In “Next,” he similarly walks through his internal dialogue when a girl—it is hard to imagine fully grown women in Villere’s songs—wants to see him at a coffee shop.
Why do you want to get coffee?
But I don’t even drink coffee
I’m down though
I’ll just get water.
That could play as self-consciously nerdy, like Belle and Sebastian with even less tweedy, British boarding school game, but the cool R&B grooves add a breezy urbanity at odds with songs that namecheck Capri Sun. He’s as mundane as Prince was exotic and just as deliberately so, but the grooves give the songs a low-grade sexiness—about all the sexiness you can imagine Villere comfortable with.
Belaboring Prince as a reference point is risky because Villere specifically points more to Flying Lotus and Kanye as inspirations, but drawing the line from Prince to both of those is easy, and like Prince circa 1986, Little World feels like part of a world that exists almost entirely in its creator’s head. Parade, Under the Cherry Moon, Lovesexy and The Black Album all feel walled off from our world by a cordon imaginaire, and Villere remakes Covington in his own squiggly, plastic image. And like Prince at that time, Villere specifically made an album and not just a collection of songs. That’s more radical now in a playlist ecosystem than it was in the mid-‘80s, and half of the tracks on the 12-song album clock in at 2:12 or less. Many are sketches, which is true to the aesthetic Villere demonstrated in his Fro-Yo Ma work, while others are mood pieces that don’t pursue thoughts as much as they introduce them. He edits together different voices to ask, “Do you believe we’re almost 22?” Once he gets that question well and truly asked, a cacophony of voices and melodic snippets crowd the track, suggesting the conflicting internal and external impulses he’s sorting out. Throughout the album, Muppety child-like voices vie with his more mature, sing-spoken voice, and his musical impulses similarly shift through registers that signify different levels of maturity at the same time. Really, those song sketches dominate the album, and only “Cool,” “Next,” “Look Right Thru,” and “Sand People” lock into clear verse/chorus structures.
Zack Villere’s musical home so far has been Soundcloud, and even though his musical community is very different from that of Lil Pump and Lil Peep, it’s clear that he’s part of one. He shares the work of people—friends?—whose music he likes, and in a recent Spotify playlist Villere curated, a number of artists with strong Soundcloud presences joined Deerhoof, M.I.A., Kanye, and Feist. Because of that, Little World feels like it’s part of the world, whereas Prince was disappearing into his world by 1986. His self-involved nature would eventually make Prince seem isolated, and despite Villere’s nerdy persona, he never sounds lonely in his songs. He doesn't put as much on the line as Prince, so his wins aren't as big, but Villere sounds very much at home in Little World.