Alexander O’Conner, aka Rex Orange County, is an old soul. From his quavery vocals and neo-soul romantic ballads, the 21-year-old English artist has broken into the independent music scene, becoming the voice behind some of the internet’s favorite love songs.
O’Conner’s simplistic and typically acoustic music has appealed to a surprisingly wider audience in an age of music dominated by electronic composition. Thanks to a 2017 collaboration with Tyler the Creator on his Grammy-nominated album “Flowerboy,” the teenage singer-songwriter found a loyal fan base who lauded his nerdy piano-pop ballads that harken to the likes of Ben Folds or Randy Newman. His rose-tinted takes on teenage love are to blame for his success.
In his latest album, “Pony,” released Oct. 25, the wunderkind artist dropped the naive idealism present on breezy hits like “Loving Is Easy.” Instead, he presents a worn view on the fame he has experienced in the past few years.
“Everything makes me wanna quit while I’m ahead,” sings O’Conner on “Face to Face,” a bouncy track that explores the idea of “being away from home and feeling trapped in an undesirable situation,” according to a post about the song on his Instagram.
Throughout the entire album, that melancholic angst doesn’t ever give way, a repetition that soon grows tiresome. O’Conner never truly delves into what he’s experienced to prompt this darkness in his lyrics, merely dancing around the surface. Though he’s never been known for complex lyricism, this lack of detail fails to give the listener any reason to care in the way that love songs off his 2017 album “Apricot Princess” managed to.
“Throughout the entire album, that melancholic angst doesn’t ever give way, a repetition that soon grows tiresome.”
Though some might roll their eyes at the repeated angst on the album, that isn’t to say “Pony” is a total chore to get through. Each song provides a pleasant listen that proves O’Conner’s gift of composing catchy, if not overly safe, acoustic-pop ballads. “Never Had The Balls” is the project’s lone true standout, employing a mix of cinematic strings, Nintendo-style synths and jazz-informed electric guitars. Showcasing his chops as a composer, O’Conner sings and hums in his signature creaky and raw voice over an undeniably catchy beat worthy of repeated plays.
However, despite the bold production on some songs, the project is overall inoffensive and predictable, consisting for the most part of the same drum loops and lyrical content that make for radio-friendly hits. Most of the album blends together in the form of passable album tracks. Moody songs such as “Stressed Out,” which is stripped down to melodramatic lyrics over an electric piano, fall into the category of half-finished revelations about O’Conner’s life experiences and lack the charming universality of his earlier work.
“Now I’m safe and sound where I belong / It took all my strength to carry on,” he sings on “10/10,” O’Conner’s ballad about moving forward. For an artist with as much development potential as Rex Orange County, “Pony” offers uncertainty for the artists’ future.
“Pony” is available on all streaming platforms. Rex Orange County is performing at Denver’s Fillmore Auditorium on January 24, 2020. Tickets and information can be found here.
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Ben Berman at email@example.com.