By Jessica Jones, Copy Editor
Key tracks: “10/10”, “Face To Face” “Pluto Projector”
It’s always exciting to have the chance to watch a young artist grow and develop their sound, and that’s exactly what we get to experience with Alex O’Connor, more commonly known by his stage name Rex Orange County. At only 21 years old, he has three well-received albums under his belt, a loyal fanbase and is preparing for his second tour. Now, with the release of his newest album, Pony, O’Connor fuses his signature indie-pop sound with blue-eyed soul––and a hint of classical influences––into something that is truly special.
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Pony opens with “10/10”, an upbeat, synth-inspired song that details the struggles Rex has experienced with writing new music, romantic relationships and friendships––all recurring themes in the world of Rex Orange County. The first verse takes the listener back in time to when things weren’t so 10/10 for Rex: “I did it again, I did it again / No control over my emotions, one year on and I still can’t focus.” By the end of the song, Rex reassures listeners that he’s still making music a top priority in his life “And though it’s still hard work to find the words, I’m still gonna write this fuckin’ song.” Some elements of Pony feel forced and suggest that Rex was writing merely to meet a deadline or to please a manager. Regardless of the reason behind his lack of creative inspiration, the songs on Pony still feel genuine.
A week before Rex released his album, he teased fans with the romantic, Frank Ocean-like ballad “Pluto Projector”. The opening lines of this song are some of the most striking on the album: “The great protector, is that what I’m supposed to be? / What if all this counts for nothing, everything I thought I’d be.” In true Rex fashion, the gentle yet ever so haunting message of the lyrics paired with an enchanting orchestra makes it one of Rex’s best songs to date.
In his music, Rex often discusses the implications of age, and on Pony, Rex sounds like he has it all figured out while simultaneously exclaiming that he doesn’t know much at all. The lines “I’ll do the same as you I’ll try and hold it up, soon I hope / Or as soon as I’m old enough, old enough to understand” from “Pluto Projector” contradicts lines from “It Gets Better”, where Rex sings “I thought I knew everything but I was naive / Didn’t understand until the age of 18 yeah, even then I was blind.” The ever-present dynamic of Rex’s ego clashing between songs never fails to make his lyrics fascinating.
While Pony contains more slow, earnest songs than fast-paced ones, “Face To Face” is reminiscent of songs from Apricot Princess in the way that it starts off slow and picks up in the second half. That seems to be a favorite style of Rex’s, as nearly every song on his last album followed the recipe. However, one of Rex’s major improvements on Pony is the decrease in the number of times he uses the technique, as it easily becomes repetitive and overused.
“Face To Face” is an animated track in which Rex describes his feelings of being trapped and placed in an uncomfortable environment. He sings, “You were occupied, I was in the shower you were unaware, I was fully clothed / And you didn’t know about this but you wouldn’t even really need to know.” The dreamy harmonies match perfectly with the carefully placed bells and twangy xylophone.
While Pony is undoubtedly a potent album, complete with deep cutting lyrics and delicious melodic riffs and rounds, Rex is understandably still honing his craft. Being such a lyrical artist and having so much to say, Pony could have benefited from being a longer album, perhaps through adding one or two more tracks. Upon first listen, this album and its songs may come across as sounding forced, as if Rex wanted to play it safe this time around. Rex is incredibly young for all that he has achieved so far, and his potential is enormous. Pony is just another stepping stone to all that Rex has to offer.