Alex O’Connor’s third album has been ricocheting around the music world for the month following its release. There have been plenty of critics being annoyed by the lilting soft indie pop, but I think this album is a natural segue for O’Connor’s unique trail through the industry.
bcos u will never b free was the first album produced and released by Rex Orange County in 2015, while he was attending the very prestigious BRIT school for percussion. It was self-recorded, modest, angsty and perfectly ensnared the attention of everyone, including Tyler, the Creator. He flew Alex out to L.A. after hearing his second album (Apricot Princess) to work on his 2017 album Flower Boy together. This was a defining moment for Alex, who was on the road for months afterwards, following his fast-growing collection of fans. His distinctive voice and those gooey ballads have kept everyone’s attention for years four years and counting, and the anticipation leading up to the full release of Pony was monumental.
The album starts with “10/10”, which has been loved as a Rex song for a good while before the album release. He drawls about the dissatisfaction that comes with feeling smothered or restricted in your life, but it ends on a positive note as he prides himself on being able to choose something better for himself.The soothing Nintendo-type synth flows naturally with the song, and the bouncy drum line is enough to truly catch everyone’s attention in the beginning of the album. “Always” comes off as a rather immature song because of the rather aggressive beginning, but its slower tempo and mopey lyrics catch at the heart. O’Connor whines about choosing to delude himself in an unhealthy relationship, and his struggles in finding happiness when he feels stuck in a rut, leading the song to come off like a lyrical opponent of the 6 ½ minute conclusion to Pony, “It’s Not the Same Anymore”. Always” and “Laser Lights” blend together with threads of bluesy jazz, but largely differ in the method of delivery. Alex reverts to his well-known, sleepy sort of rap-talking in the latter.
“Never Had the Balls” speaks to opening up in a relationship and trying to communicate healthily, using a jaunty 80’s bassline and a unique synth to build up, gradually, and culminate in a satisfying riff accompanied by the vocals of none other than O’Connor’s girlfriend Thea Morgan-Murrell. Despite the boldness with the production of the rest of Pony, O’Connor’s emotion really shows through the stripped-back “Every Way”. His use of a Randy Newman-like piano line along with tear-jerking, exposed vocals that make you want to stop and take a moment to appreciate something beautiful. “It Gets Better” is arguably the most unique and creative song on the album. The beginning of crunchy electronic bass guitar, soon joined by a distinctive piano beat and smooth vocals that make you feel like you need to tiptoe. The beat comes to a peak in the chorus and you may realize that you’re tapping your foot, and not of your own volition. Then a symphony of beautiful strings accompanies O’Connor’s soaring voice in the end of the piece for a wonderfully energizing hopeful song.
The outro, “It’s Not The Same Anymore”, focuses on contradicting the sadness we heard in “Always”, rushing the ears with climbing strings and melancholy. Its conclusion to the album is soulful and sweeping, causing you to reflect on the beauty of musical synthesis and emotion. The entire album is chock-full with Alec O’Connor’s creative lyrics and genuine positivity, and it’s a comfort to know that O’Connor’s perspective on the future is much more positive than it was during his first album release. Pony remains a creative and stunning addition to Rex Orange County’s studio accomplishments.
By Brynn Sailing