Rex Orange County
Album + Gig Review
Nineteen-year-old Rex Orange County, or to his friends, Alex O’Connor, has proved that age is just a number in his second self-released album, Apricot Princess. This Surrey-born singer/songwriter has turned break-up albums on their head, producing an emotionally driven, yet joyous compilation, of the butterflies-in-your-stomach feeling when falling in love, something of which, Taylor Swift should take note. Following the same sound, which has appeared on previous work, such as Bcos U Will Never B Free, the album breaks away from musical conventions, becoming a genre-blend of twinkling jazz melodies, husky-toned rapped verses, and catchy indie-pop tunes. With hints of Mac DeMarco and Francis and the Lights, this chill album is creatively brilliant, but what do you expect from someone who has already worked alongside Tyler, The Creator, performed onstage with Skepta and was shortlisted for BBC’s sound of 2018?
Genre-blend of twinkling jazz melodies, husky-toned rapped verses, and catchy indie-pop tunes"
The idea of focusing on new beginnings of love instead of the melancholic end of relationships is refreshing to the industry. Throughout the album, Rex confesses his adoration to a new beau, ultimately his girlfriend Thea, of whom was the inspiration behind the lyrics. The lo-fi sound creates a rustic and raw approach to tackling puppy-dog love, giving the album delicate undertones of vulnerability, while remaining honest and down to earth.
The opening song, Apricot Princess, immediately sets the tone for what is to follow in the rest of the album. Rex starts to confess his love over an ensemble of synths, percussion, and a sprinkling of piano, creating a slow orchestral tempo, which resembles many a James Bond song. Afterwards, the melody picks up with the addition of clapping and snapping turning into a jazz-centred tune that would fit right at home within the La La Land soundtrack.
Television/So Far So Good is the highlight of the album, taking the listener on a two-part rollercoaster. Television’s backbone is a fast rhythmic drum beat accompanied by percussion and electric guitar riffs; a charming contrast compared to the previous song. With cheeky lyrics and a catchy chorus, “But if you’re looking for something new / I know somebody that you could choose / What about me? / What about me?”, this song stands out amongst the other nine on the album. The real talent, however, is the melodic journey of the song that Rex navigates us through. Starting with pop-rock vibes then changing to rapped verses, that draw hints from Twenty One Pilots, then finishing with a sentimental ballad in So Far so Good. Rex is undoubtedly experimental. However, it would have been nice to of had Television as a stand-alone song, picking up the beat for the rest of the album.
Smooth modern jazz song Sycamore Girl is the musical rendition of sending love letters to a secret admirer. This is short, compared to the other featured songs, but sweet track includes the angelic, soulful vocals of his girlfriend Thea, who I hope to hear more from in the future. The lyrics are a mirroring conversation between the two discussing their love, which is a new feeling for both of them, “By the way, I don’t know how to be in love / I’m not afraid, I’m a slave right away / And I’m here for good.” “And by the way, it’s a way that I haven’t felt before / I have to say, that I feel like I’ve never been so sure.” Their voices fit together like perfect jigsaw pieces to create a gentle and sincere performance that pulls at your heartstrings, perfect for easy-listening.
Rex Orange County is a truly gifted singer/songwriter, quickly becoming one of this generations most creatively honest artists, however, the genre-blend style of Apricot Princess acts as both a help and hindrance. It certainly makes Rex stand out from the crowd with unique and quirky songs that have real talent behind them, but at times it can feel inconsistent; you’re not sure when one song starts, and the other ends. The album may require an open mind, but it is certainly well produced and has become a firm favourite. Recently having teamed up with Dutch musician, Benny Sings, on Loving Is Easy, it’s clear that Rex is working his way to the top, and Apricot Princess has unquestionably helped him to do so.
Rex Orange County @ Thekla, Bristol
On a converted boat in the River Avon, a couple of hundred music fans wait eagerly for a glimpse of the man everyone is here to see. A sign at the entrance states clearly, “Rex Orange County- 20:45pm”. With no support act, apart from a hidden DJ, who plays an eclectic mix of music from Busta Rhymes to Otis Redding, some people grow agitated as it’s almost 9pm and no one has appeared on stage.
The hall is so small that a door backstageis visible to around half of the waiting crowd, and every time it opens necks strain to see who is coming out. But the headliner is nowhere to be seen.
Finally, a band takes the stage to a chorus of cheers, leaving an empty microphone and piano to be filled by the main man, who follows a few seconds later. “We’re gonna have some fun tonight” he announces. And he certainly fulfilled this promise.
The 19-year-old switches from soulful crooning to cheeky rap effortlessly"
Starting with some more upbeat songs from his latest album, Apricot Princess, the 19-year- old switches from soulful crooning to cheeky rap effortlessly, and is matched word-for-word by the audience. He’s joined on stage by his girlfriend Thea for the dreamy duet ‘Sycamore Girl’, before rising from his keyboard, donning his guitar and giving his band a break for a few songs.
This is arguably the moment Rex comes into his own on the night, as he proclaims, “it’s time to slow it down”. He responds to shouts from audience members with a dry humour that we maybe don’t see in his music: “He’s banned from this country for some reason”, is his answer when asked: “Where’sTyler (The Creator)?”. He pauses to let the crowd fill in the line: “Cos that’s just fucking weird”, on the happy-golucky Corduroy Dreams, as he delves into his 2016 debut album “Bcos UWill Never Be Free”.
After the band returns, they play a series of fan favourites, including the beautifully upbeat singles Loving Is Easy, Best Friend and Sunflower, which featured a mind-blowing saxophone solo from oneof the band members.
It’s amazing to see just how popular the BBC Sound of 2018 runner up is this early in his career, and there’s no doubt the fortunate few who saw him in this intimate venue have witnessed a future star.