Beneath The Surface: Rex Orange County – Pony

Pony, Rex Orange County’s 33-minute long sophomore album, attempts to condense the breadth of a pop album into a small, neat, tidily wrapped package.

The record kicks off with “10/10,” an upbeat tune that sees Rex reminiscing about failed friendships and expresses a desire for self-improvement. With concise lyricism, a triumphant chord progression, and creative synth work, this song is certainly a contender for the highest point of the record. The lyrics are honest, which is refreshing in the pop music industry known for its decreasing lyrical quality.

Second in the lineup is waltz-ballad, “Always.” This song is absolutely drenched in nostalgia as Rex riffs over a funky horn-line, singing about the difficulties one might face in a romantic relationship, or in a quest to improve oneself. 

Face To Face” is a rather uninteresting entry in the Pony’s tracklist. Although Rex describes the track as being about “feeling trapped in an undesirable situation,” and being away from home, the song only seems to skim the surface of what those themes could have entailed. Additionally, the instrumentation of the track lacks inspiration, sounding rushed and unemotional.

“Never Had The Balls” is a fairly strong point, making a good showing with its almost 80s-esque compositional style and harmonics. It’s a sweet, catchy song about a reluctance to admit an unrequited love. It’s a story that we’ve all heard many times before, but Rex succeeds in finding a creative renewal of the narrative, keeping listeners on the edge of their seats. 

Pluto Projector” is quite possibly the emotional peak of this record’s tracklist. The song begins like many of Rex’s other tunes with an understated instrumental and simple vocal line. The track slowly builds layers upon itself, concluding in a euphoric display of the singer’s true compositional ability. The horns, strings, and pianos all complement each other nearly perfectly, and the build of emotion throughout the song creates a satisfying rise and fall.

This song then transitions into “Every Way,” which acts as a sort of interlude. Although it bears a heavy resemblance to “Always,” it is intimate and makes the listener feel as if they could be listening to a friend singing in their bedroom.

It’s Not The Same Anymore” is the album’s conclusion. Reflecting on the loss of youth, Rex Orange County sings of how his “face has changed” and “lost its joy.” This song does a wonderful job of synthesizing the lyrical themes of the entire record and providing a satisfying end to a moderately impressive pop record that will likely inspire some aspiring musicians for some time to come.

Although Pony drags at certain points (mainly during “Stressed Out” and “Laser Lights”), there are enough shining moments to prevent the project from taking too much of a hit from these shortcomings. In his moments of true sincerity, which are unfortunately scarce, Rex did some fairly good work on this project.

Rating: 6.5/10

Credit: pitchfork.com

Pony, Rex Orange County’s 33-minute long sophomore album, attempts to condense the breadth of a pop album into a small, neat, tidily wrapped package.

Cavetown at the Music Box

Robin Skinner, better known as Cavetown, released his breakout album, Lemon Boy, in 2018. On Tuesday, October 22, he played an emotionally evocative set at the Music Box

Opening with “Hug All Ur Friends,” Cavetown exhibited a playfully nervous demeanor, similar to what is exhibited on his YouTube channel and across his collection of music videos. His passionate fanbase eats it up. Between each song, people exclaimed their love and admiration for the singer, with some even proclaiming, “You’re precious!” His response to this remark was simply, “Thanks friends!”. Friends is an accurate attribution to this devoted group of fans. The energy of the show was intimate but still larger than life.

Videos of Skinner’s hairless cat, Fig, looped on the television screen to his right for the duration of his show, which he endearingly explained early in the set. Not to mention, the bumper music played between the opening and headlining sets was entirely from Spongebob Squarepants. 

I found that the concert brought out an innate sense of nostalgia within me. Cavetown’s music has always held a special place in my heart, as it details the struggles of introversion in a whimsical, digestible manner. At the midpoint of the set, the audience was treated to Skinner’s most popular track, “This Is Home.” The live version of the song well exercises live instrumentation, without relying much (if at all) on the prerecorded track. As someone with a special connection to the song, I can surely say that the image of flashlights in the air as the words “I’ll cut my hair to make you stare” filled the room is not one that I will soon forget.

San Diego was lucky enough to be treated to some unreleased music as well! “Things That Make It Warm,” which may be available by the time this post goes live, is a warm, acoustic song that Skinner described as being “about some birds building a nest together.” It is yet another instance of the singer’s deceptive songwriting, having a message far deeper than its “manifest content” if you will.

After closing his set with “Boys Will Be Bugs,” Cavetown was cheered back to the stage, playing “Fool” as his encore. With live drums and an electrifying guitar solo, the song was a satisfying conclusion to a fantastic experience. If the chance presents itself, be sure to catch Cavetown on tour in the coming months.

Check out Cavetown’s music here.

Written by: Grant Jordan
Photos by: Grant Jordan

Surf Curse at The Observatory North Park

Surf rock has become largely oversaturated in Southern California, but bands like Surf Curse have created a refreshing sound that is unique to Socal’s music scene.

I had the opportunity to see Surf Curse at The Observatory in North Park on Wednesday, October 16. While waiting to enter the venue, I witnessed a security guard’s interaction with a group of young girls (who were intoxicated and attempted to bring alcohol into the show). Seeing this altercation, I knew what type of concert this was going to be, and I mean that in the most positive way possible.

The whole experience felt like a scene from a teen-indie film.

The band’s production was minimal, and their show intimate. Each musician had something distinctive about them. Nick Rattigan sang lead vocals and played drums simultaneously, which I found extremely impressive. Jacob Rubeck largely kept to himself as he played his mahogany and black Stratocaster. His business-like demeanor and crisp technique were fascinating to watch.

Although Rattigan and Rubeck are the “main” members of the band, their touring musicians more than carried their weight. The guitarist and bassist had great chemistry and played passionately. In fact, the guitarist played so passionately that he broke two strings throughout the show. Additionally, their synth player’s nonchalant body language led my girlfriend to ask me, “Is she even playing anything?” I laughed. You know you’re doing something right when you play your instrument so well that people can’t even tell you’re playing it. 

Most of their set came from their latest record, Heaven Surrounds You, but they did not neglect to include hits such as “Freaks” and “Forever Dumb” in their encore. Although I did not know every song, each track gave me a similar visceral feeling of nostalgia, which was completely exhilarating.

All in all, Surf Curse gave a great performance. People moshed, crowd surfed, and will certainly remember the night.

Check out Surf Curse’s music here.

Written by: Grant Jordan
Photos by: Grant Jordan

Beneath The Surface: Lewis Capaldi – Divinely Uninspired To A Hellish Extent

Six months ago, Lewis Capaldi was a relatively unknown force. Throughout the past year, he has rapidly become one of the most sought-after names in the music industry, achieving his first platinum record in the United States, “Someone You Loved.”

About six months later, Capaldi released his debut album, Divinely Uninspired To A Hellish Extent. The record narrowly passed Billie Eilish’s debut record, becoming the fastest-selling record of 2019.

Divinely Uninspired To A Hellish Extent is a pop record that emulates the feeling of a male Adele. “Grace” introduces us to the soft drum, prominent piano sound of the album. With Capaldi passionately belting, “I’m not ready to be just another of your mistakes,” the song gives the LP a moderately effective introduction.

The introduction segues into “Bruises,” the record’s second entry. This is surely a highlight on the album. When the song was originally released in 2017, very few (if any) singers were emulating Capaldi’s gritty, passionate inflection and style. The song’s gripping dynamics, elegant piano, and pained vocals define Capaldi’s style, with the singer even releasing a full EP containing various iterations of the song.

Like “Bruises,” smash-hit “Someone You Loved” does not try to be anything that it is not. It’s a simple piano ballad with an effective emotional message. The song features a beautiful string arrangement, and a bridge containing notes I didn’t even know a male could belt. This is the most popular song on the record (#3 on Billboard’s Hot 100 at the time of this post) for a reason. Capaldi sings, “I tend to close my eyes, but it hurts sometimes. I fall into your arms.” Anyone with romantic experience will relate to these lyrics, and easily follow the chord structure and arrangement of the song.

At this point, the album begins to lose power for one primary reason: All the songs sound very similar.

Most of the songs containing drums are virtually indistinguishable from one another and do not break any musical barriers. Most notably, “Maybe” seems to have originated in the same chord structure, lyrical concept and arrangement as “Grace.” While I admire Capaldi’s style and reliability, I find it ineffective to have similar sounding songs on the same record, as it softens the message the artist is trying to convey.

The record’s highest points come when songs embrace their simplicity. In the B-side of the album, cuts such as “Forever” and “One” stand out to me as impeccable performances from Capaldi.

All things considered, this is your average pop record with slightly more grit and emotion. There are certainly a few impressive tracks on this LP that give fans a reason to await Capaldi’s next release, but the album lacks reliability and continuity, depending on a few singles to keep its head above water.

Rating: 5/10

Source: Universal Music Ireland