Empress Of - Us - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Empress Of - Us

by Mark Moody Rating:8 Release Date:2018-10-19
Empress Of - Us
Empress Of - Us

It’s hard to quibble with much of Empress Of’s (Lorely Rodriguez) sophomore release, Us.  Gracing other's tracks ranging from Blood Orange to Dirty Projectors, it’s a treat to have a musical playground where Rodriguez is its undisputed queen.  The album is remarkably consistent over its ten tracks, and that’s not such an easy feat for what is essentially a synth-pop album that on many songs veers closest to Eighties dance music.  Rodriguez layers in beats along with multi-tracked vocals to create a palette of DayGlo colored songs that radiate as brightly as the album’s cover.  And to prove that sometimes you can judge a book by its cover, Us shows us Rodriguez openly and swaggeringly assured compared to the demure black and white cover of the inwardly focused Me of a few years back.  

Staying true to its title, Us, focuses on relationships: good, bad and otherwise.  The album opens on the scratchy and languid beat of ‘Everything to Me’ with an assist from Dev Hynes (Blood Orange) on vocals.  Rodriguez oohs and aahs around the song filled with images of a May to September romance as the album starts to simmer.  Things come into full focus on the following ‘Just the Same’ where the sandpapery calypso rhythms are counterbalanced by glass bending bass notes.

The first four tracks of the album cruise along and are capped by one of at least two tracks on Us that are no less than perfect.  Joined by high profile producers DJDS on ‘Love For Me’, the chunky synth notes coupled with metallic pings and Rodriguez singing in her highest register make for an irresistible entrance.  Cinematic in its sweep the song breaks open as the listener is let past the velvet ropes into the pulse of the club.  The other slice of perfection comes a bit later on with ‘When I’m With Him’ after the album has time traveled three decades back.  The nostalgic synth line here may give the song its vibe, but Rodriguez’s mix of Spanish and English vocals in alternating tones take the song to a higher plane.  As good as the rest of the album is, putting these two tracks on endless repeat would make for a fine sunny day soundtrack.

Elsewhere, the most obvious dance track here ‘I’ve Got Love’ should be enough to get anyone dancing on their couch, broom mic in hand and shamelessly singing along about love coming out of their pores.  Self-described as having sung Mariah Carey and Céline Dion songs as a child in the family room, Rodriguez gives any disco diva a run for their money here.  The latter half of the album is covered with a sheen of musical nostalgia with the retro-sounding ‘Timberlands’ leaving the listener wondering if the boots have made a comeback or were being transported back to their “cool to be a lumberjack” heyday.  And if ‘All For Nothing’ regretfully sounds a bit too much like The Fixx’s ‘Saved By Zero’ (could have gone my life without thinking of that one), a quick recovery is made on ‘When I’m With Him’.            

Though not one of my go-to musical genres, Us left me duly impressed.  My only real complaint about Us is its mid-October release.  It’s been a few Summers since there’s been a bona fide “roll down the windows, crank up the volume” soundtrack for the sweatier months.  Rodriguez’s surefooted beats and lyrical content, that more than once has bodies pressed against bodies and concerns no more troubling than a squabble in the car, scream hot fun in the Summertime.  Fortunately, Us will play well in the dance clubs of L.A. and Miami where Winter never dares show its face and given some legs might at least give the snowbound a reason to stick it out ’til Spring.

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