If, in 2013, Lorely Rodriguez – the writer, producer, performer and artist behind the name Empress Of – described her sound to Anthem Magazine as, “Uncomfortably comfortable pop. A work in progress.” She may have indeed taken that concept and ran with it. Me, Empress Of’s debut album, shows a true progress in sound and experimentation as well as showcasing one of the strongest voices to emerge in recent years.
Me is the kind of pop music you wait to come around – something like maybe you felt when hearing The Knife’s Heartbeats for the first time or maybe like when you heard Bjork in 1993. It contains raw and captivating observations, just as much aimed at the subjects of her songs as they are about delving into her own psyche and worldview. Like an early Bjork or a PJ Harvey at her most savage, Me also puts to the forefront the voice and sentiments of a confident and poised female musician – combining this voice with the kind of Weird Earworm hooks that The Knife perfect on their first two albums. (Slightly related side note: her album cover looks a bit Horses or Rid of Me, yes? Perhaps on purpose and more than a little telling.) A lot of this album reads as Speaking Truth to Power – standing up for herself, for her needs and wants, putting men in their place and reminding us with needle-like accuracy about the current state of privilege and power and in this country.
Rodriguez told Rookie magazine recently, “As an artist, I’m generally drawn to very obvious things, hence calling my album Me.” We would say that her observations might be to the point, but they are rarely obvious – even when they should be. The entirety of Me conveys a watchful eye and a concise opinion of the world at large with the confidence to let it know what she wants and what she expects. “Don’t kitty kitty kat me like I’m just your pussy,” she sings, sweetly, on Kitty Kat, over a grandiose, blown out, aggressive drum sample – a stomping, anything but placating, admonition to a cat caller. “If I were a man, would you still do the same?” You can hear her nails underneath the quiet question.
The entire album itself is full of these great, personal, reflective statements – some of them straight to point like Kitty Kat and some that sneak up on you in their poignancy. “Water water is a privilege / just like kids who go to college.” Obvious – perhaps – but a pin prick to get you thinking about the current state of affairs in regards to how privilege (and, by extension, racism) is currently being handled in this country.
Not just political, Me also explores a relationship – or series of relationships – and uses them as a sounding board for her musings on not just the relationship or her subject, but also as a way to make a statement about her expectations and intents, her own fears and angers. “I forgot that I could let someone fulfill me,” is heard over the shimmering, 4-on-the-floor banger of “How Do You Do It?” Rodriguez is singing of the pleasure of letting yourself get lost in someone – but never letting us forget that she can hold herself just as well, maybe to her detriment. Empress Of’s frank approach to sex is also a wonderful addition to the overall feel of the album. “Nothing comes between us / but a piece of latex” intoned over the snapping, rolling beat of Make Up – this just adds to the intensity, almost desperation for connection, of the chorus itself and gives the album, as a whole, a wise depth and sense of nuance.
Me is a shimmering masterpiece of pop – something that won’t (but should) get played at any dance night and would fit quite comfortably between anything Jack U or MO is currently doing. The lyrics and twisting path of the melodies themselves elevate the entire thing to an almost experiment, like that heard on Glasser’s recent album (and another true elevator of the pop to an artform) Interiors. The pianos and synths quiver with a barely contained intensity and the bass is almost catastrophic – listening to Me on a pair of crappy laptop speakers will ABSOLUTELY not do it justice. The mixing, by Rodriguez as well, is handled deftly and every level of sound is important, never pushing any part of the song out, but instead letting all pieces weave together like a tapestry.
All this observation and nuance makes it sound like Rodriguez might transcend us entirely, but some of our favorite moments are the ones where we can see our own twenty-somethingness contained within. “…we order a drink that’s the cheapest,” she sings in Icon. “I took too many pills to be sleeping.” There’s still room for fun and growth in there – and we can’t wait to see what the future holds for Empress Of.
Review By Ethan Brown
Spotify: Empress Of
Soundcloud: Empress Of
iTunes: Empress Of ‘Me’
Empress Of Tour Dates:
09/16 Allston, MA – Great Scott
09/17 Montreal, QC – Piccolo Rialto
09/18 Toronto, ON – The Drake
09/20 Chicago, IL – Empty Bottle
09/22 Minneapolis, MN – 7th St Entry
09/25 Vancouver, BC – Biltmore Cabaret
09/27 Portland, OR – Holocene
09/29 San Francisco, CA – Rickshaw Stop
10/01 San Diego, CA – Soda Bar
10/02 Phoenix, AZ – Valley Bar
10/03 El Paso, TX – Lowbrow Palace
10/05 Austin, TX – The Mohawk
10/06 Houston, TX – Rudyards British Pub
10/09 Miami, FL – lll Points Festival
10/10 St. Petersburg, FL – The Bends
10/11 Atlanta, GA – Eyedrum
10/12 Carrboro, NC – Cat’s Cradle Backroom
10/14 Washington, DC – DC9