REX ORANGE COUNTY – PONY REVIEW

I feel like one of the main topics I have been focusing on with a lot of the music I have written about lately has been artists that are pushing the boundaries of genres and blending them together, and today’s piece is no different. In the world late 2010s genre-defying music, Rex Orange County has been at the forefront for a while now. Rex has this totally unique way of blending elements of hip hop music and folk-pop music that is pretty unlike any artists from this era. The way that he delivers a lot of his verses is this type of sing-rapping that reminds me a lot of Drake, and although the melodies for most of his songs are guitar-driven soft folk music, quite a few of his songs have a basics 808 beat or basic trap beat in the background of the song that is totally unique for this kind of music but does not sound out of place at all. Some of his music even has a bedroom electro-pop vibe that is similar to but not exactly like vaporwave music. One of my favorite things about Rex Orange County is how much soul and passion is put into his music; I mean listen to his song ‘Best Friend’ from his album Apricot Princess and tell me that you do not feel the passion from his words in your bones. He has this way of making his songs sound so relatable that it feels like you are actually friends with him. Speaking of Apricot Princess, which was his critically acclaimed album that was released in 2017, his newest album. Pony has just as much quality and soul as his predecessor. Rex Orange County’s albums always seem to be an imprint of how he is feeling at the current moment. That being said, Pony does not have the same sort of blind optimism that the starry-eyed Apricot Princess has. It is obvious that Rex has been feeling unsure of himself as a person an artist, and that is somewhat noticeable at points on this album. It is easy to tell that he does not know exactly where he is trying to go, which is not necessarily a bad thing. Pony may not feel as organized and concise as Rex’s earlier projects, but it still has the quality songs that would be expected from him; do not skip past this record, because it is worth checking out.

I had a year that nearly sent me off the edge. I feel like a five, I can’t pretend. But if I get my shit together this year maybe I’ll be a ten…

‘10/10’ was the first single released in anticipation to the release of Pony, and I can not lie, this song definitely got me pretty damn excited for the record. ‘10/10’ has that folk and soul vibe that we have come to expect from Rex, and it is equipped with a low key trap beat that keeps the tempo of the track up. This track has a way more somber tone than pretty much any of his music that has come out to this point. As you can tell from the lyrics above, Rex has been feeling down about himself as an artist and person in the last year or so, and this has affected his art. He states that he has seemingly been in a creative block, but he is ready to get up and dust the dirt off of his knees and start being productive and happy again. I am a big fan of this “fake it until you make it” type of mentality; if you feel like things are not going right, take a breath and force yourself to do something that makes you happy, then just get back to working hard at your craft again. Everything may not work out perfectly, but in order to be happy you have to do things that make you happy, so just keep pushing forward. ‘Always’ totally switches up the sound of the record right away, with the song starting out with some strange spacy synth and loopy sound effects that devolve into a slow and chill R&B joint that sort of reminds me of Jhene Aiko or some old Frank Ocean. The lyrical tone of the song is pretty similar to the preceding track; on ‘Always,’ Rex is singing about how he still feels like he is not enough, and the art that he wants to create will not be accepted. He still keeps that “fake it until you make it” type of optimism though, singing on the chorus that even though the person he is may not be good enough for some, he still is not going to change who he is. The next song, ‘Laser Lights,’ is full of way more angst and attitude than really any of the music I have heard from Rex to this point. Rex’s self-loathing tendencies are pushed to the forefront on this song, with Rex stating that he is: Dancing to the shit that sounds nothing like me, huh? Dancing to the shit I like… It is crazy to me that someone as talented as Rex Orange County could dislike the art that he is creating himself because it is so cool and unique. I probably should not talk, though, because I typically do not enjoy the art that I create myself. ‘Laser Lights’ has a jazz-rap vibe that sort of reminds me of Little Simz and Noname(two rising female artists that are known for their lyrical ability); this track is the most hip hop sounding on the record to this point. I love the attitude of this track, and I would not mind hearing Rex with this frustrated tone more often in the future.

‘Face to Face’ is one of my favorite songs on this album; admittedly, that may be because it reminds me a lot of Apricot Princess, although it still has a bit of a darker tone than most of the content of that record. ‘Face to Face’ is a love letter to Rex’s significant other, with him explaining to us how much he needs her to keep himself sane and happy. The instrumental of this song is a bit different than the songs that precede it on this record, and it is the most upbeat song on the record so far and sort of has an easy-going R&B tone to it that I think Rex Orange County excels at. This track does not have any hip hop tendencies or sing-rapping that a lot of the rest of this album has, but the R&B flavor of the melody and beat still help it fit into the style of Pony very well. ‘Stressed Out’ is a way more low key track than the one that precedes it, as it is one of the most chill songs on the album. Similar to ‘Face to Face,’ the song starts out with Rex singing over a simple melody(this time provided by a piano instead of a guitar), with a beat kicking in as the song hits the chorus. This track has more of a slow and low key trap beat, which is obviously way different than ‘Face to Face’ and totally mellows out the mood of the listener. Rex is singing about those people in his life who are using him and not really there for him in ‘Stressed Out,’ with him singing in the first verse: They wanna see me stressed out every day, I know it. They wanna lie and still be friends. But when you’re at your worst, they’re not there. And you discovered that they don’t care… It is a bit shocking and sad to see Rex so vulnerable, but maybe this is necessary because sometimes we have to push through all of the bullshit to find who we really are, what we really want, and who is actually there for us. At this point, it does not seem like Rex Orange County has found these things yet, but it is good to see that he is trying. On ‘Never Had the Balls,’ Rex keeps up the melancholy tone of the rest of the record while once again completely switching of the pace and beat of the song, making it so similar but so different to the songs before it. This track has a simple version of a clear 808 beat which makes this song sound way more happy and upbeat than it actually is. ‘Never Had the Balls’ is a message to a girl that Rex used to have a crush on; he knows he is right for her and knows that it would work out between them, but he is too timid to take the leap of faith that he needs to in this situation. I dig the lyrical tone of this track a lot because I can totally relate to it as I know I have had this feeling in the past as well. It is crazy how how you can love one song so much on an album and not be into the next song at all regardless of a similar tone. For some reason, I am just not into the song ‘Pluto Projector’ at all. Stylistically it is not that unique or strange for Rex and lyrically it does seem to fit the tone of the record, but for some reason, this song just does not hit with me on any level. It just feels to slow and out of place; maybe if the song were placed somewhere else in the tracklist of Pony I would have been into the song more, but to me ‘Pluto Projector’ just does not seem to it that well where it is. I do not think this is a terrible song or anything and I do not think any of ya’ll should skip it, but unfortunately, this song is just not for me.

I care about you in every way I can. You know I’m troubled, but I know you can understand. I’m sorry for the strain. No one prepares you for the way in which things change…

That slow singer-songwriter style continues with the song ‘Every Way,’ and I have to say I enjoy the way it is done on this song a lot more than on ‘Pluto Projector.’ The tone and style of this song reminds me a lot of Phil Collins, or possibly the slower piano-driven ballads that Billy Joel has made. Lyrically, ‘Every Way’ plays to Rex’s strengths very nicely, with this song once again being a love letter to his significant other. He addresses the fact that she has seen him at his lowest point, and even when it seems like he is so far gone and no one can help, she always tries to understand so she can help Rex in any way she can. The love that he is singing of on this track sounds so pure, and most people envy having similar feelings as Rex does about this woman. Although the lyrical tone stays similar to its predecessor on the second last track on the album, ‘It Gets Better,’ but stylistically and sonically this song does a total 180. ‘It Gets Better’ is the most upbeat song of the record and therefore the most danceable, but the production is the strangest that we see on this record by far. The distorted and quick keyboard notes give the track a weird underlying bass line that sounds dope and adds a ton to the complexity of this song, and that quick classic beat will totally get you moving and grooving. ‘It Gets Better’ is another love letter to Rex’s lady, with him telling her of the ways that she has changed his life for the better. ‘It’s Not the Same Anymore’ is a true outro through and through, as not only does it wrap up all of the ideas and lyrical points of the record very well but also is 7 minutes long and touches on a lot of the sonic ideas that came throughout the album. This track probably has one of the saddest tones of the album; Rex really seems to be bummed about how life was so much more simple and fun when he was younger and did not have to worry about impressing so many people. These lyrics from the chorus exemplify the feeling of the whole track very well: It’s not the same anymore. I lost the joy in my face. My life was simple before. I should be happy, of course. But things just got much harder. Now it’s just hard to ignore… I really hope that for the sake of his music and for his own sake that Rex can find the happiness that he once had at some point soon. He seems like a good guy and it stinks to see him have to relay these types of emotions through his music. Regardless, ‘It Gets Better’ does an excellent job of closing out this record, as it really does help the album come to a nice close in a sonic way as well as a lyrical way.

The biggest take away I have from this record is that Rex is lost and does not really know what he wants to do; not only is this feeling very apparent in the lyrics of pretty much every song but also I think it is evident from how random and disorganized the record as a whole feels at times. I am sort of seeing this album as a bridge record for Rex where he is trying to find his way; it sort of seems like he through a bunch of shit at the wall to see what sticks. That being said, there are quite a few gems on this record, and fans of Rex’s music in the past should definitely still enjoy this one. It will be exciting to see where Rex’s music goes as he continues to perfect his craft. In the meantime, I will definitely be listening to songs on Pony in the future quite a bit.

6.8/10

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