ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON THE 405 (NOW DEFUNCT)
Lorely Rodriguez, known to most by her stage name Empress Of has flown under the radar for the better part of five years. Rodriguez’ 2015 debut album Me earned her critically-claimed appraisal, albeit, quiet rumblings of the next big thing in pop music. Though Me certainly mandated attention, her fiercely personal effort was not enough to separate herself from similar electro/art-pop acts; i.e. Austra, Charli XCX, Shura, or even contemporary R&B counterparts, like frequent collaborator Dev Hynes. Not to say her debut wasn’t unique, Me blend of experimental R&B-isms and sophisti-pop exuberance felt familiar on the surface. Nevertheless, her latest record titled Us proves to be much more of the same but sees the rising talent extending her sonic palette toward disco-y realms of sound and with bolder strokes of mainstream pop sheen. Lyrically, Rodriguez stretches herself past personal contemplation outward, encompassing others around her, hence the title Us. With her prior release, Empress Of for the majority allowed other talents and producers to curate the eargasmic final product—this time around, the Latin American singer-songwriter, notes she produced “about 70 percent” of the album herself, and not a step is missed in quality. Keeping the experimental character of Me, Rodriguez infuses her brand of pop with a considerable amount of catchy hooks, thus, making Us Rodriguez’ most accessible display to date. With numerous tracks featuring violently danceable rhythms, and delectable pop choruses, in the middle of it all is Rodriguez’ fiery voice, unleashing empowering anthems for others to grasp onto and make their own. Though Us runs a brisk course of 33 minutes, Empress Of manages to keep listeners’ glued to every moment that passes by. Opening with the bubbly synthesized “Everything to Me,” featuring vocals from Hynes, Rodriguez mixes things up with a contrasting midtempo rhythm—nevertheless, the first track is indicative of a path toward pop simplicity that appeals to a broader listening audience. The track “Just The Same” rides this trend, but brandishes a fusion of Latin and dancehall influences with its bouncy bassline and skittering high hats. Alternating between Spanish and English falsetto vocals, “Trust Me Baby” is yet another temperate piece that smolders between a wobbly bassline and woozily psychedelic synthesizers. With a vocal melody that recalls both Christine and The Queens and Tegan and Sarah, the track “Love for Me” is a rather somber and anxious number that features a straightforward yet infectious chorus. The best and first real uptempo moment arrives at the album midpoint, “I Don’t Even Smoke Weed.” With a booming synth bass looming beneath aqueous soundscapes, Empress Of unveils one of the best electropop singles of the year. At this point, the record builds with an energy that carries much of the rest of the way through. Layered with textures and ‘80s new wave nuances, the immediate and infectious “I’ve Got Love” throbs with a funky pulse of nostalgic of delight. While the energy of Us peters out in the end, it does provide two of the album’s most charming and dreamy numbers—this is especially true for the track “Again.” Featuring eclectically misty instrumentals and Rodriguez’s simply delivered yet convicting vocals, “Again” is easily one of Rodriguez’ most beautiful moments as an artist.
While again, not entirely fresh or original, Us is dauntless and knows what it wants to be musically as it succeeds in being both experimental and accessible. Though Us brims with sonic confidence, it is emotionally fragile and completely transparent lyrically. Aptly titled, Empress Of’s last album Me explored themes related to oneself, including, isolation self-love and self- empowerment. With a follow up contrastingly title Us, Rodriguez’s lyrical demeanor is fittingly expansive and universal, but somehow manages to remain deeply personal. Though many of the lines on the album refer to experiences she had with a partner, much of the lyricism is less inward-looking and more expressive of others. In fact, “I’ve Got Love,” a notably vivacious cut, was written for a friend dealing with suicidal thoughts. Though there are hints of doubt and yearnful ambiguity associated with detachment and abandonment, littered throughout, Us is a project album radiating with friendship and the comfort of simply being next to someone.
THE 405 RATING: 7.5/10