In many ways Me – the debut album from NYC singer Empress Of fulfils its title. She recorded it in isolation, self-produced it and wrote it about herself but interestingly she’s not the only predominant character on the record. While Me is entirely about Lorely Rodriguez, she spends much of the record delving into a part relationship using that other person to evoke feelings of claustrophobia and aid the realisation that she wants to be free and alone. “I’m making love to myself, when I’m making love to you…I think I’m the one I need,” she sings on Need Myself. Me, for all its immediate simplicity as a title actually turns out to be a complex exploration of her inner-most turmoils realised by her relationship with someone else.
From Need Myself to To Get By, a desire to be alone is a recurring lyrical theme on the record and like life imitating art, being alone is exactly what she did to create the record. Rodriguez plucked herself from New York and set up in a friend’s house in Mexico to record the album, confronting loneliness and fear for a month in a picturesque but isolated setting. That time left alone results in the album in deeply personal, reflective thought that gives a really dark edge to the set of sprawling, expansive alt-pop songs.
Beginning with the gentle, gushing Everything Is You we seem to descend further and further into Me as we move through the ten songs. The soundscapes get fuller, the lyrics get more personal and her voice gets fuller and takes flight. “Everything I do is because of you,” she sings on the opener making a realisation about a relationship that seems to become more and more claustrophobic as the record goes on.
Predictably, the album is dark. Lead-single Water Water creeps towards you in a demonic way with its trudging beats and elongated vocals. Similarly, Kitty Kat has an industrial weight to it furthered by Rodriguez singing “let me walk away.” Too often do artists get lost inside their heads and have difficulty converting it for the audience, but however dark Me gets she always manages to pair it with an elated instrumental. On the aforementioned Kitty Kat sprawling synths elevate the chorus while the beats on Need Myself are perky and light.
She’s also got quite the knack for electronic pop, crafting a certified banger with How Do You Do It built around an effortless synth-line that Todd Terje would be jealous of. It’s just the reprieve that’s needed to get through the entire record without feeling as if you’ve inherited all of Rodriguez’s fears and instabilities. There’s actually a sense of freedom in her ever-expanding vocal too that comes through particularly on Make Up as she reaches giddy heights singing, “why don’t we make up our own rules and break them when we like.”
She breaks from the theme of relationships at least once for album highlight Standard which talks of life in New York City and the social injustices of New York. The beat sounds icy – the type that could only be conjured by living in an expensive but tiny NYC apartment in the midst of winter. There’s a certain romanticism attached to New York which is often squashed when you actually have to make a living there and you can feel that frustration on Standard.
Interestingly if you follow the tracklist of Me as a chronological order, she yearns for to be alone and then when she actually is, she feels uncomfortable. “I don’t want to feel so alone,” she sings on Threat which is a distinctive change of tune from Need Myself. This continues on Icon as she sings “every minute paces like an hour when I’m just in a room with the lights on.”
On Me, Rodriguez constantly changes what she wants based on whatever situation she’s in which is human instinct – the grass is always greener. It’s that feeling exactly which makes Me never feel completely comfortable but always utterly captivating. For the 10 songs we sit inside her innermost thoughts circled by howling synths and thumping beats that move between full force and a gentler intensity. Step away from the lyrical depth of Me and you’ve got a crisply-produced, incredibly well-conceived pop album that expands throughout. That alone is thrilling but add the lyrical depth to it and it becomes one of the most intriguing projects of the year – an exploration of self that provides more questions than answers. And that’s completely ok.
EIGHT POINT FIVE OUT OF TEN