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Rex Orange County dazzles on major label debut "Pony"

 – Photo by Photo by Flickr | The Daily Targum

British indie musician Alexander O'Connor, known popularly by his stage name Rex Orange County, released his third studio album titled “Pony” on Oct. 25. 

The music on this album stays true to the artistic identity that Rex Orange County has developed for himself: The 10 songs on this album juxtapose the happy with the sad, and explore the perspective of a complicated boy growing into something of a man at the age of 21.

O’Connor’s creative journey is rooted in the unique experience of 21st-century young adults and artists. His first two albums “Bcos U Will Never B Free” and “Apricot Princess” were self-released, making “Pony” his first album as a signed artist with Sony Music Entertainment’s RCA Records. 

Rex’s first album, which was published on SoundCloud, caught the eye of Tyler, the Creator. The rapper flew Rex out to Los Angeles and featured him on two songs on the album “Flower Boy,” granting him his big break.

Much of Rex’s music is based on his four-year relationship with his girlfriend and fellow musician Thea. In a recent article, aptly titled “Rex Orange County Drives The Kids Wild,” Alex Shultz of GQ Magazine called Rex’s explorations of what the modern love song is the artist’s “bread-and-butter” and “the non-negotiable deal breaker of the Rex Orange County narrative.”

The artist has often been labeled a quintessential “sad boy” or “soft boy” in the context of the current music scene. But, in a recent interview with NPR Music, O’Connor seems to have come to peace with, or at least become indifferent to, this aspect of his image.

“Pony” is a wonderful whirlwind of an album. It opens with the ambitious and joyous “10/10,” the first single off the album. In pursuit of becoming a “10,” the lyrics of this upbeat tune are aspirational and fun, with a takeaway line being: “Yeah, I turned superhero / I’m comin’ in Bruce Wayne.”

Coming down from the ecstatic high of “10/10” is a tonal shift to “Always.” This song is mellow and melancholic, transporting one to a swaying state of introspection and feeling like a lovesick teenager. 

Next comes “Laser Lights.” It’s a short but unique number takes on an interesting, personal energy which we can all audibly enjoy, but maybe not wholly lyrically appreciate as outsiders to O’Connor’s songwriting process. 

I am no expert on the mystical and ever-expanding genre that is alternative music, or music in general, but I know this: Its ability to puzzle and intrigue with words and sounds is a big part of its appeal.

The romantic single “Face To Face” starts off as calm with simple piano instrumentals and soothing harmonies, but quickly transforms into something more buoyant. Next is the song “Stressed Out,” which begins with Rex yawning, comprises some distinctive background vocals and discusses the superficial nature of fame and the people who use him for his.

Claire Donahue, a Rutgers Business School sophomore, has been a longtime fan of Rex and loved seeing him sonically evolve as an artist in “Pony.” 

“'Never Had The Balls’ is definitely my favorite song, I love the energy and the vibe. It reminds me a lot of Rex Orange County’s older music, but it’s also so new and funky and fresh. I love the sound sampling at the beginning with the bird noises. I also really love the final song, ‘It’s Not The Same Anymore,’” she said.

In between Donahue's aforementioned favorite songs off “Pony” are the starry-eyed slow jam “Pluto Projector,” his underrated and beautiful 2-minute declaration of love, “Every Way,” and the dynamic and fun chronicling of O'Connor's romance with Thea, “It Gets Better.”

The terrific tensome “Pony” is available to listen to on all major streaming platforms, CD, vinyl and even cassette for added alternative flair. 

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