Short, snappy and sweet; the second album from Lorely Rodriguez, under her moniker Empress Of, offers precious space for breath, and little reason to pause. Spanning ten tracks and a brisk 32 minutes, ‘Us’ is a recommended listen for any fans of the likes of Charli XCX, MØ or Maggie Rogers. Dealing in the recognisable traits of electro-pop with a light drizzling of R&B, tied together by Rodriguez’s memorably warm vocal, ‘Us’ is an immediately arresting and accessible album showcasing some of the best in uplifting, optimistic pop.
On debut record ‘Me’, Rodriguez made all the long yards herself, writing, performing and producing the entire record. The collective ‘Us’ heralds the introduction of others into the song-writing process, most notably Blood Orange’s Dev Hynes, who also features on album opener ‘Everything to Me’. Where ‘Me’ was experimental and raw, ‘Us’ is notably refined, while still possessing the synth-pop character of its critically acclaimed predecessor.
When it comes to the music itself, ‘Us’ is immediately uplifting and joyous. Minimalist keys and an almost stream of consciousness vocal style in ‘Everything to Me’ break out into reggae and dancehall tinged beats in ‘Just the Same’. While the combination of synths and percussion is immediately dance-worthy, Rodriguez’s vocal is spirited and inviting, signalling “I want you on top of me like a paperweight”.
All the while, the combination of repetitive hip-swaying synths and Rodriguez’s playful vocal carries less of the sexualised ‘oomph’ that some lyrics may suggest, instead emanating a sense of casual joy, warmth and innocence, like a first blinkered journey into promiscuity, or the euphoria of a new-found attraction. ‘Love for Me’ treads the same path, as Rodriguez points out “they all left the party early / we’re still up here on our feet” and “every time I think of you it’s a summer haze”; the combination of heady synths and an anthemically repeated chorus create a sensation of youthful curiosity and hope.
‘Us’ isn’t all a plain sail through oblivious happiness though, as Rodriguez questions the strength of her relationships on ‘All for Nothing’ and ‘When I’m With Him’, the two tracks flowing seamlessly into one another. A dark bassline buzzes through ‘All for Nothing’ as layers of synth and vocal build around a vocal lament, questioning the validity of one’s own relationship, as “this love is draining us dry”.
The sentiment carries through as a contemplative piano refrain and 1975-style guitar picking combine to produce the closest imitation of a ballad present on the record. Where ‘Just the Same’, ‘Trust me Baby’ and ‘Love for Me’ represent the youthful exuberance of a new-found attraction, ‘All for Nothing’ and ‘When I’m With Him’ display the introspective questioning at a relationship’s deterioration. All the while though, there is little time for downbeat melancholy and self-pity, with Rodriguez’s music still as enriching as ever; a declaration that “I don’t know how to love now” still delivered with optimism. ‘I Don’t Even Smoke Weed’ is written about the difficulties of anxiety yet bounds along to a disco-style synth refrain, and ‘I’ve Got Love’ is written for a friend in trauma, whilst prancing along to catchy beats and an echoed chorus. Even at its darkest moments, ‘Us’ is relentlessly optimistic and joyous.
‘Us’ is an album about friends and relationships: immediately relatable stories interwoven with minimalist, dance-inducing beats, all delivered by Lorely Rodriguez’s impressive vocal. It is an album of youthful euphoria and hope, as well as an album of the true ups and downs of real-life relationships. Seemingly autobiographical in nature, through the guise of Empress Of, Lorely Rodriguez’s ‘Us’ may seem like little to the ear when highlighted as 32 minutes of synth-pop, but its effervescent delivery of human emotions, makes it an essential listen, and perhaps just the kind of album we need in the world right now.
‘Us’ is available to buy and stream NOW and tickets are already on sale for her March tour!