Rex Orange County is the king of having his heart-on-his-sleeve. In the wide landscape of alternative music, no one can make someone happy, sad and lovesick all at once quite like that 21-year-old Brit. His newest album “Pony” does all of that and more.
With two studio albums under his belt, “Bcos U Will Never B Free” and “Apricot Princess,” Rex has garnered a cult-like fan base due to his distinctly catchy, melodic and light vocals.
“Pony” comes as another entry to a rather slim discography and it’s easily the best. The project mixes the modest bedroom melodies of “Bcos U Will Never B Free” and the poppy up-tempo nature of “Apricot Princess” to produce the best moments of “Pony.” The project is noticeably more pop-influenced, utilizing electric piano, pretty synths and generally basic song structure. “Pony” still manages to sound genuine and authentic, almost like it was made in a garage studio, a closer reflection of “Bcos U Will Never B Free.” It’s a reflection of Rex’s quirky musical journey toward happiness, both sonically and thematically.
“Pony” centers around the affects of 2017 on Rex’s life. Being recruited by and contributing to Tyler, The Creator’s magnum opus “Flower Boy” and the release of Rex’s most critically acclaimed album “Apricot Princess” translated to pop-culture stardom for the then 19-year-old. That was something he didn’t necessarily want.
“I can’t wait to be home again/I had a year that nearly sent me off the edge/I feel like a 5 I can’t pretend,” sings Rex on the opening track of “Pony” titled “10/10.”
The rest of the song and the project is a truly compelling reflection on a unique perspective of being on the cusp of full-blown fame. Throughout the album, Rex reflects on how fame has affected him, his relationships with family, friends and lovers. The album acts as a psychological journey for Rex, as with each track he accepts his status and learns how to be happy as an alternative popstar.
He grips with the reality of change at a personal level on “Always,” stresses about the fake friends that come with the fame on “Stressed Out” and how the process of falling in love with someone is tainted by fame and his own habit of second-guessing himself on “Pluto Projector.” In classic Rex fashion, he confides in a girl, spilling his feelings into the listeners ear on how shes helped him grow out of a dark stage on “Every Way.”
In the finale of “Pony,” we get one of the most heartbreaking Rex tracks in the entirety of his repertoire: “It’s Not the Same Anymore.”
“I should be happy of course/But things just got much harder/I miss the days when I was someone else,” Rex sings.
The majority of the track is tough to listen to, as you hear exactly how much Rex’s life has changed for the worse and how his personality perpetuates his pain by keeping in his feelings. The simplicity of life was stripped away from Rex so quickly. In addition to transitioning into being an adult, he was showered in fame as an 18-year-old, having to deal with his own money, moving out of the house, going on tour and making music all by himself.
The pain generated by his transition is made tangible through his brutal honesty. The days of being a care-free, innocent kid are long gone for Rex. At its lowest point, the song takes a turn. “I’ve learned so much from before/Now I’m not short on advice/It’s up to me, no one else/It’s not the same anymore, it’s better,” Rex harmonizes. The final track is a beautiful composition of the vulnerability of a flawed boy forced to be a fully-grown man. It’s genuine, charming and the perfect conclusion to “Pony.”
My sole criticism of “Pony” is that it seems to drown in it’s own influences. Conceptually and musically, the album is painfully similar to Frank Ocean’s “Blonde.” At times, the album seems unoriginal and too reliant upon its influences for direction.
Rex’s brief discography has always had a clear mission and message: to find genuine happiness. By the end of “Pony,” he’s found that happiness and clarity, making the entire project an uplifting and endearing experience.