Shinwoo (Ara) Kim reviews

Rex Orange County

Pony by Rex Orange County is singer Alex O’Connor’s first album with a major-label, in this case, Sony Music Entertainment. It’s a collection of songs that appear to be different stages of the same story: the singer is depressed as he’s surrounded by toxic friends, but a girl he’s in a long distance relationship helps him through his depression, and encourages him to cut out his toxic relationships, and as a result, he’s recovering from depression. As if to reflect the repetitive nature of the theme, the songs all sound disappointingly monotonous - the highs and lows are never emphasised by an exciting beat. This really lets down some of the most engaging lyrics in the album.‌

The album’s first track, ‘10/10’ refers to how he personally rates his emotions, and introduces his depression. While aspiring to be fully happy (“a ten”), he feels “like a five.” He’s suicidal (“I had a year that nearly sent me off the edge”), but after cutting out toxic relationships, he’s recovering and feels more in control of his life ("I'm comin' in Bruce Wayne.”). However, there’s nothing sonically to highlight the change in his mood. The line “no control over my emotions” sounds so controlled and withdrawn that it’s almost paradoxical. In fact, the whole song, like other songs in Pony, drones on as if he’s holding back his inner turmoil.‌

‘Always’ is vulnerable and thus likeable. Generally in Pony, his lyrics are honest and full of raw emotion, which is charming in its own way. He exposes how he has a habit of denying his problems, unless convinced otherwise. Sound-wise the melody’s mostly uninflected, except the crescendo in the chorus, which could be interpreted as him screaming out for help.‌

The backing trumpet and piano of ‘Laser Lights’ is refreshing to the ears after the uninteresting, repetitive sounds epitomising the album. The “shoes” indicate how quickly he’s walking through life, highlighting his distress of being at a complete standstill from burnout after “dancing” restlessly. ‌

The lyrics of ‘Face to Face’ display his hurt and pain. He implies he self-harms ("you were unaware, I was fully clothed"), which he hides from a girl who he’s in a long-distance relationship with (“two different countries… poor connection"). He misses the girl massively, because she’s now his “only friend... My world got so much smaller this year," presumably because he’s burned bridges. ‘Stressed out’ is about distrust and paranoia ("They wanna see me stressed out every day, I know it") and disappointment ("But when you're at your worst, they're not there") he feels towards friends he’s cut ties with. ‘Never Had the Balls’ is about recovery after leaving toxicity. He feels more like himself  ("I was lost, felt nothing at all but I'm coming back now, yeah"). Before he cuts those ties, he’s hesitant - he has to constantly tell himself to ("I shouldn't waste my precious time on anybody living off of mine"), and he needs encouragement from his girlfriend, who reassures him that it will be the “best decision” he’s ever made. Like the rest of the album, the melody of the three songs are flat and drony, which is sad given that this album has so much potential.‌

‘Pluto Projector’ is about his appreciation and fondness for the girl he’s dating (“And it's you that knows my darkness”) and how he’s still very much in love with her ("This right here still feels like the honeymoon, when you say my name, nothing's changed"). Again, his emotions are cut short by synthesised, toned-down vocals preventing the track from becoming louder. In comparison, ‘Every Way,’ which deals with the same topic, has a slow tempo and gentle piano that reinforces the sadness in his voice, as if he’s about to burst into tears: both tears of joy in the girlfriend’s presence in his life (“It means the most, I hope you know"); and tears of uncertainty about whether he can look after her (“I will care about you in every way I can").‌

The disjointed bass that begins ‘It Gets Better’ is noticeable, and echoes the chaos in his life before his girlfriend enters it, which becomes more dynamic as it changes to a happier synth at “she changed the world I know” and as more levels are added to the second verse of the chorus, before going back to the disjointed bass. Sonically, this song portrays his emotions the best. ‌

What’s curious is that he chooses to end the track with ‘It’s Not the Same Anymore.’ If he’s recovering, why does he decide to end his life story on a sad note ("It's not the same anymore I lost the joy in my face, My life was simple before")? Perhaps he’s trying to show that recovery is a slow process and that ever since depression claimed him, he will never go back to being quite as happy as he was before.‌

Overall, for a sentimental track, he’s not being experimental enough. It feels like a step down from his previous albums Apricot Princess and bcos u will never b free, because although they were amateuristic, they were more experimental. Has contracting with a major-label stopped his musical venture? Funnily enough, he’s predicted that he’s “a five” but hopefully, in his future albums, he’ll be closer to a “ten.”‌‌