“Though it’s still hard work to find the words, I’m still gonna write this fuckin’ song,” sings Rex Orange County on the first track on new album Pony. It may feel like it has been a while since the artist, real name Alex O’Connor, has released any new material. This he attests to an uninspired, dark year – but as he states, he pulls through and not only writes ‘10/10’, but crafts one of the most stunning albums of the year thus far.
2 years on from Apricot Princess, Pony sees Rex lean into pop territory, but in a characteristically experimental way. Yes, those cheerful, pop elements are more potent, but they are blended with tinges of jazz, gliding from strings, to synth and back seamlessly. Where the jolting ‘Stressed Out’ borders on angst, ‘Never Had the Balls’ is upbeat, marking a change in the album. The first five songs are introspective, detailing darker times, but the rest of the album seems to show Rex rising from the ashes of the past year.
His strongest songs centre around his girlfriend, Thea. Rex’s charm stems from his ability to convey uninhibited emotion flawlessly, and the way he writes about his girlfriend is enough to make you melt. ‘Pluto Projector’ and ‘’Everyway’ make a stupefying duo, harbouring an abundance of heart wrenching odes to Thea, his “favourite ever season”. The soaring orchestral nature of ‘Pluto Projector’ is gorgeous: where Apricot Princess defined this relationship as a heady rush, there is something secure and unwavering presented on Pony. ‘Everyway’ is the most arresting moment – a piano driven thank you, it is so tender it almost feels intrusive, but its Randy Newman-esque sound makes it irresistible.
‘It’s Not the Same Anymore’, the final note on Pony, is stripped back and acoustic, emphasising the rawness of this collection of songs. It’s an admittance that not everything is okay all the time, but that is okay – a heartfelt mantra permeating the album. “It’s not the same anymore, and it’s fine” appears to be the message that Rex wants his listeners to take from this album – things and people change, and that’s okay. Sometimes, you’ll get a really banging album out of it.