At only 21-years-old, Alexander O’Connor, better known as Rex Orange County, has seen his life turn completely upside down. Since the initial release of his debut full-length project, Bcos U Will Never B Free, the jazz-infused indie musician has been making tidal-sized waves. It was undeniably Apricot Princess, a beautiful dive into the mind of a lovestruck nineteen-year-old, that put Rex on the map. After all, with this project came a Tyler, the Creator co-sign, work with Illegal Civilization, and the beginning of what would become the life-altering year that would define Rex’s latest project.
With a breakout appearance on Tyler, the Creator’s Flower Boy and the success of the tracks, “Sunflower,” “Best Friend” and “Loving is Easy,” Rex became indie music’s poster child overnight. The hectic nature of his new life is the emotional cornerstone of Pony.
The highly-anticipated album is a reflection of what happens when an artist is suddenly thrown into the spotlight, hurled from his small town, the love of his life, and feels as if he is losing all his friends in the process. Pony is the culmination of these sudden life changes and the attempt to overcome subsequent feelings of hopelessness, all delivered through an awe-inspiring, jazz-inspired, synth-infused, sonic framework.
Prior to the release of Pony, O’Connor released three of the album’s tracks as singles, “10/10,” “Face to Face,” and “Pluto Projector.” Hinted at in the standalone single “New House,” Rex brought forward a new element to his music. His use of autotuned and reverbed vocals gives a whole new twist to his trademark sound and a glimpse of what he has to offer the music world at large. With the idea of overcoming melancholy and homesickness existing as one of Pony’s central themes, the album is a beautiful reflection and insight into the world of a budding star.
In contrast, the album’s cover is nothing but a headshot of Rex himself against a white backdrop, displaying a sense of purity against a literal clean slate. After a year of turmoil, this album is unapologetically a new beginning.
Aside from the singles, a few of the highlights on the album are absolutely gorgeous. “Always,” the uplifting “Never Had the Balls,” and the closing “It’s Not the Same Anymore” shine as veritable high points, even when Rex seems to be at his lowest. “Always” opens with a rising yell, into a smooth ballad over soft drums, smooth bass guitar, and gentle keys. Rex sings in adoration to his lover, explaining how she gives him hope that there is room for things to get better. Despite feeling down, the chorus echoes, “That there will always be a part of me that’s holding on / And still believes that everything is fine and I’m living a normal life.” The chorus is enough to make any listener yearn for a moment in their past you can no longer return to.
Rex returns to his roots on the track “Never Had The Balls,” a track that plays out like a spiritual successor to Apricot Princess’ “Television / So Far So Good.” This track is one of the brightest moments on the album as O’Connor reminds himself that “And now I know things are getting better, I could live like this forever.” With birds chirping in the production, and gorgeous harmonies, Rex goes on to add, “Yeah, I’m finally in the zone,” a striking juxtaposition to the overall tone of the album.
Pony is the perfect documentation of what it is like to become what you have dreamed of, only to realize that maybe it is not all that it’s meant to be. Whether it be losing friends or missing loved ones, Rex Orange County has gone through it all. Alex O’Connor has mastered the art of placing himself in the music he creates. Pony may as well be a diary, albeit one of the best-soundtracked diary entries we have heard all year.
Listen to “Pony” below: