Empress Of (aka Lorely Rodriguez)' debut album Me was one of the best debuts from an indie-pop artist in recent memory; her extraordinarily singular voice arrived fully-realised over 10 streamlined, sparse electronica tracks. Her follow-up, Us, expands her palette somewhat – instead of working solo, she's collaborated with other producers, while adopting elements of pop songwriting that make the album feel meatier than her debut, but also more conventional. The resulting 10 tracks are a mixed bag, though Rodriguez leans into her stronger side enough to make Us an accomplished record.
The title of Us may reflect Rodriguez' themes of unity and identity. Although Me was entirely in English, Us features Rodriguez singing proudly in Spanish on a number of songs. She's looking for connection in both romantic and societal senses – the excellent trip-hop style Trust Me Baby asks a lover to shed their inhibitions ("we could do each other more love than harm," she insists); while I Got Love is an up-tempo battle cry insisting that love is the antidote to hate. It's almost corny, but rescued by Rodriguez' thrilling production and cutting harmonies.
Rodriguez leaves room for a dance banger, which she does so, so well on I Don't Even Smoke Weed, which is more about anxiety than it is about substances. That tune leads into the sprightly Timberlands, an emotional gem that finds Rodriguez lamenting her tendency to harden up against heartbreak. As she unfolds the chorus with a flawless falsetto, there's a sense of hopefulness; you know she'll get over this feeling at some point.
Filler tracks like Just the Same and Love For Me can't quite match the genius Rodriguez finds elsewhere, but they don't detract from her more unique innovations. Us proves Rodriguez is here to stay, and will continue to explore the ways pop music can be used to reflect the zeitgeist in smart, exciting ways.
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Empress Of, Us
Artist: Empress Of
Label: Terrible Records
Verdict: More conventional than her debut - but a wunderkind talent nonetheless