Since Rex Orange County released his first moment of pop genius ‘Loving Is Easy’ back in 2017, the Surrey-born musician has been a difficult artist to pin down. One minute he is working with Tyler The Creator, the next it’s Randy Newman. Crudely speaking his music lies somewhere between the two, as an envelope pushing, genre bending multi-instrumentalist and singer-songwriter. Despite a couple of independent releases under his belt, ‘Pony’ is his major label debut and therefore his introduction to the wider world - fortunately he doesn’t disappoint.
The album kicks off with lead single ‘10/10’, an anthemic opener that simultaneously gives us an insight into his personal troubles while painting a hopeful picture for the future. The production is almost ‘Twisted Fantasy’-era Kanye, maximalist and magnificent, beautifully juxtaposing with his introspectively morose delivery. The following track ‘Always’ elaborates on this vulnerability, its tale of self-denial and eventual acceptance really opens us up to Rex Orange County’s personal struggles.
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of ‘Pony’ is that while the singer varies delivery and production, he creates a consistent soundscape. Although the rap-singing style doesn’t quite land on ‘Laser Lights’, the horn and piano instrumentation succeeds in salvaging what might have been a forgettable moment.
‘Never Had The Balls’ is the uplifting synth-pop hit we didn’t know we needed in 2019. The production shifts throughout as a string section gives way to a guitar solo, while Rex’s lyrics capture the youthful desire to escape mundanity. Throughout the project, Rex always manages to be lyrically engaging as he shifts our expectations and steers clear of cliché.
The closing moments of ‘Pony’ are perhaps the most impactful, with most recent single ‘Pluto Projector’ toning down the grandiosity of previous tracks. ‘Everyway’ and ‘Its Gets Better’ are odes to his partner, with the latter being a definite highlight. The six-minute closer ‘Its Not The Same Anymore’ is the anti-thesis of the opening track, with the maximalist optimism replaced with a melancholic bitterness and an eventual redemption.
‘Pony’ isn’t perfect, but more importantly it is never boring. Even in the slight missteps, there is something to be admired. Rex Orange County seems aware that he isn’t the complete package yet, however he rejects the need to be conservative in his approach and instead he uses ‘Pony’ as a dizzying crucible of ideas. It is easily one of the most interesting and exciting pop records of the year.
Words: Will Rosebury
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