Release Date: Sep 11, 2015
Record label: XL
Genre(s): Electronic, Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Electronic, Dream Pop, Chillwave
Lorely Rodriguez's evolution over the past half-decade mirrors the twists and turns of indie rock itself. She first appeared as a member of Brooklyn's Celestial Shore, a quirky art-rock quartet rising in the wake of Dirty Projectors and Vampire Weekend. After debuting her Empress Of alias with a series of color-coded song snippets on YouTube, she released an EP of shimmering synthpop just as kindred spirits like Phantogram, Grimes, and Purity Ring were crossing over.
Empress Of is the musical moniker of Brooklyn-based musician Lorely Rodriguez. She emerged back in 2012, when a series of synth-pop single releases led her to be labelled ‘the new Grimes’. Rodriguez took her time over Empress Of’s début full length, finally released in September of this year. Rodriguez’s earlier releases tallied with the then-fashionable chillwave produced by the likes of Neon Indian, Washed Out and Purity Ring.
Empress Of (aka Lorely Rodriguez)'s music is empowering in every sense of the word; sure, it's easy to get swept away by the chilling vocals or mercurial house beats that trace throughout the crystalline surface of her debut album Me, but less obvious are the righteous messages and deeply personal stories she shares with each song. Whether chronicling the bitter cycle of privilege and inequality ("Standard"), clapping back at street harassers ("Kitty Kat"), or praising the powers of self-love ("Need Myself"), Empress Of tackles heartbreak and passion through a refreshingly feminist lens. Girl power never sounded so good.
Deconstructed R&B rhythms and skittering, minimalist beats, made by a Brooklyn-dwelling singer-producer whose name was inspired by a tarot reading? It would be easy to dismiss Empress Of as hipster detritus, hot on the heels of XL labelmate FKA twigs. But Lorely Rodriguez is making coolly affecting experimental pop that’s all her own. Me is packed with alluring quirks, from the attitudinal squelch of Water Water, a stompy house track set to the sound of someone running through puddles, to the ticking clock that forms the beat for the loneliness-spiked Icon.
Head here to submit your own review of this album. "Can I get up off my knees, and find a rhythm of my own?" It's an entirely rhetorical question, some necessary bile flung towards the stifling and unfulfilling partner of 'Love Myself', the seventh track on Lorely Rodriguez's debut album as Empress Of, Me. It's also, thematically speaking, one of the most significant statements to be found on a record that's largely preoccupied with the process of finding one's own rhythm.
When Lorely Rodriguez started posting Colorminutes, a series of minute-long musical compositions, to YouTube a few years ago under the name Empress Of, she wanted them to be heard with as little context as possible. She attached no picture or information about herself; the songs were simply titled "1" through "15," and featured only a block of colour as artwork. Now, following a couple of successful EPs and increased exposure, Rodriguez's debut full-length arrives with her image on the cover and an even more telling title: Me.
Making her full-length debut after a few singles and EPs, Empress Of (the electro-pop solo moniker of Lorely Rodriguez) sounds remarkably assured and self-confident on her first album Me. Previous releases, such as her 2012 debut 7" single "Champagne"/"Don't Tell Me," featured Elizabeth Fraser-like vocals over hazy, downtempo beats in line with much of the other chillwave being produced around that time. Me continues moving in the direction suggested by Rodriguez's 2014 digital single "Realize You," which was considerably more uptempo and danceable than her early material.
Empress Of’s Systems EP – a bilingual exploration of electronica and R&B that followed her mystifying Colorminutes project – arrived over two years ago. A flurry of eyes latched onto the NYC-based producer/singer better known to her friends as Lorely Rodriguez, but a full-length failed to materialise. But Rodriguez hadn’t slacked off into the abyss to ne’er be glimpsed again – she was slaving away on her debut album.
Transparency reigns on “Me,” the coolly assured debut album from Empress Of, a.k.a the songwriter Lorely Rodriguez. The tracks use just her voice and her electronics, and they are as clean-lined and skeletal as a blueprint under plexiglass. Born and raised in California and now based in Brooklyn, Ms. Rodriguez drew attention when she posted her songs in progress as “colorminutes” on YouTube.
We value auteur musicians as paragons of the field. We value them because they have the force of will to truly impose their singular vision on a project. This year’s most complete example of this may be Empress Of, Lorely Rodriguez’s electronic pop alter ego. On the appropriately named Me, she takes total control of the album, handling not just production, instrumentation and songwriting, but the recording and engineering as well.