Rex Orange County
By Zoe O’Neil
One of the hardest decisions for music lovers is choosing what to listen to with friends. What will everyone like? What’s appropriate for driving in the car, hanging out in someone’s basement, or blasting over the speakers at a party? Some like sugary pop like One Direction, others prefer alternative bands like Cage the Elephant and Vampire Weekend, and some gravitate toward hip hop artists like Kendrick Lamar and Tyler the Creator. As you can imagine, it’s always a struggle to get a song everyone can jam out to together. However, one young artist’s music captures many genres, and he is nineteen year old Rex Orange County. The British artist, whose real name is Alex O’Connor, plays the part of musical mediator very well. Perhaps the appeal is because his music is so diverse: his work includes sunny pop melodies, funky bass lines and guitar work, and even rapping over explosive drums. People who like all different genres can enjoy something Rex Orange County has to offer. In this sense, Rex Orange County isn’t just a creator of original work: he’s pinpointed aspects of other genres and expertly combined them into his own musical collages.
Each of the young artist’s songs is a snapshot of emotion. Rex’s self-released first mixtape, ‘bcos u will never be free’, was put out in 2015 while he was 16 and attending the renowned BRIT School in London. There, he studied drums while also dabbling in guitar and singing about his daily feelings. In his work, the singer-songwriter emotes through sometimes explicit, always heartfelt lyrics about youth, love, pain, and the simple wonder of being alive. ‘bcos u will never be free’ expresses the tired, simple lo-fi sound found in other self-produced music on Soundcloud and Band Camp. The album seems unsure at times, but Rex was aware of its shortcomings and makes them seem purposeful. The little imperfections are relatable to those who are developing their own voices, musically or otherwise. Overall, the album is gritty and unrefined while still being gentle and vulnerable. Even though the album could be described as bedroom pop, it doesn’t really fall into the pop category due to its diversity. A few more singles were put out before his second volume of work, ‘Apricot Princess,’ appeared on streaming services in April 2017. Right from the title track of ‘Apricot Princess’, it is obvious that Rex has been listening to music as much as creating it. His tunes are smoother and the songs seem more purposeful. This album is sweeter and more romantic, probably because the artist’s relationship with his girlfriend, Thea, began during the album’s creation. You can even hear her provide some vocals on the song ‘Sycamore Girl.’ These lyrics are just as heartfelt and personal as the ones from 2015, but they’re simpler and more relatable this time.
Music is constantly evolving. Artists today can manage every part of their music, from the composition and production to the editing and distribution. Because Rex Orange County creates all of his music with the help of computer software, he can layer instruments to create a big band one moment, or completely cut off everything but a "boom tss" sound effect the next. Digital drums lingering underneath his rambling monotone are as common and fitting as smooth violins, ambient buzzes and playful chimes. Sudden cuts in sound are dynamic and expressive.
Alex O’Connor may be young, but his career as Rex Orange County is already expansive. His music celebrates the ordinary, and almost seems like the antithesis to grandeur and opulence. It is a soundtrack to teenage life, rather than movies and fiction, and shrinks the distance between movie magic and everyday. The extremes of emotion are hard to express, but Rex Orange County’s work may be the the most successful in capturing it and sharing it in today’s world.
New Haven based musician, singer-songwriter, Thabisa, visits ECA to talk about her journey of becoming a musical artist.
Interview by Brianna. Additional questions by Ysabel. Video editing by Jared
VIRTUE, by The Voidz
Album Review by Kat
Virtue (2018) is the second studio album released by the Voidz. Their first record, Tyranny (2014) debuted as a dark, bold sound that was very different from lead singer Julian Casablancas’ other band, The Strokes. Its experimental, hard grooves turned many Strokes fans away, but Virtue has been receiving more positive reviews than its predecessor from many audiences. The Voidz themselves think so too. In a Reddit AMA, they said, “Tyranny is the problem, Virtue is the solution.”
What makes the new album so much better than their last record? Instead of using the focused, dark signature sound of Tyranny, Virtue goes in many different directions. An incredibly eclectic album, with indie compositions like the opener, “Leave It In My Dreams,” to insane rock tracks like “We’re Where We Were” and “Pyramid Of Bones,” to more folksy songs like “Lazy Boy” and “Think Before You Drink.” While the album does seem messy and genre-blended on the surface, the lyrics and themes make Virtue quite a cohesive album. The Voidz spreads a specific message about the importance of being politically educated and breaking away from conformity, hence the lines “Just remember, they surrendered” (Pyramid of Bones) and “Just because something’s popular, don’t mean it’s good” (Permanent High School.)
I would recommend listening to this album if you appreciate politically charged music, love good experimental rock tracks, or just want to discover a new sound that’s written by some of the most technically creative rock musicians of this century.
Top 3 tracks: “QYURRYUS,” “All Wordz Are Made Up,” “We’re Where We Were”