Music by August Prum February 8, 2018
It’s hard not to like Rex Orange County.
Take his most recent single “Loving Is Easy”. The song, with its twinkling little pianos and Rex’s unabashedly singing about his love for his partner, feels like a warm embrace. Like riding your bike on a sunny, breezy day.
Rex, born Alex O’Connor in the small town of Haslemere, England, about 50 miles south of London, is making some of the most damn enjoyable music I’ve heard in some time.
There’s nothing overtly “cool” about Rex Orange County, who got the name from an abbreviation for his last name and just liked the name Rex.
O’Connor is an unassuming baby-faced, 19-year-old with a bad haircut from suburban England. But his music touches on something universal; growing up, heartbreak, unabashed joy, and love.
O’Connor started seriously making music when, at the age of 16, he was accepted to the prestigious BRIT School, an arts school in London. His first project as Rex Orange County was 2015’s bcos u will never be free.
His debut record is a 10-track collection displaying an artist who writes extremely autobiographically about his feelings and backs it up with breezy, soulful instrumentation drawn from the entire musical landscape.
bcos is full of the angsty frustration of a teenager in high school, feeling isolated, and dealing with heartbreak. O’Connor told The Fader about his headspace while making his first project.
“I was kind of angry and upset at the time. I felt fucking annoyed going through school. I just want to tell people how I am.”
And tell it he does.
On “Paradise”, with 90s hip-hop drum kicks and splashy synthesizers, O’Connor samples Marilyn Monroe talking about choosing solitude over sociability, sings about seeing his friends in heaven, and raps about not having to act cool:
“See the reason why they did not understand you in school
Same reason why you tell yourself you’re not cool
Trust your ideas
And only drink beers, if you really want to”
Somehow, O’Connor can sing-rap about not drinking to fit in and it’s not oppressively corny. It’s just like, “Wow, you’re right, Rex, drinking isn’t for everyone!”
On “Belly (The Grass Stains)”, O’Connor compares the grass stains on his blue jeans, which used to be new, “But now they’re all fucked,” to the end of a relationship as he questions “Was she ever even mine?”
Summer’s gone and so is she
The only one left I know is me
But I still feel fucked”
There’s something endearing about an artist that’s so frank with their emotions. But, most importantly, O’Connor’s music just sounds good. While he’s still figuring out exactly what to do, and projects lack a little focus, he’s an excitingly honest and talented artist.
When he released his second album Apricot Princess, taking the title from a pet name for his girlfriend, in April of 2017, he was in a very different place to on bcos.
He told The Fader last May, “These days, I wake up, and I’m genuinely so gassed to be alive.” This sort of unbridled happiness may come off contrived, even annoying, but it’s hard not to feel gassed listening to Princess.
But it doesn’t matter how happy or in love someone is if the music isn’t good. And Princess is damn good. On “Nothing”, O’Connor sings about first falling in love, which is cool and all, but it’s the Back to Black-sounding production that makes it.
At around the 3-minute mark, O’Connor kicks it into full blues mode. The drums, those drums man, just rock. Then O’Connor wraps up the track with a brief synthy interlude that could be a cool indie hip-hop instrumental.
“Never Enough” is pure pop-rock with American country guitars that sounds kind of Arctic Monkeys-ish.
O’Connor told Pigeons and Planes about the function of Apricot Princess and how it navigates the emotions of a single night:
“Apricot Princess is like an inside album. You can listen to the album and feel all of those emotions within one night. It can be happy and dancey, and then you can think of something that you’ve fucked up on.”
It’s a wildly impressive album, both lyrically and musically, for a damn teenager (!) to make. So much so, in fact, that O’Connor caught the attention of Tyler, The Creator. Tyler brought him in to work on Flower Boy and the 19-year-old kid from Haslemere became the secret weapon on one of the most impressive rap albums of last year.
The album’s standout “Boredom” includes O’Connor singing and producing for Tyler, they form a fucking amazing partnership together.
O’Connor told P&P how the Tyler collaboration came about:
“He had emailed me in the summer of last year. He told me he liked my songs, and which ones he liked the most. I didn’t believe it was him, initially, but then he hit me on Twitter. We were talking for a while, which is crazy for me because I was one of those kids who was a big fan. Through him I found The Internet, Earl Sweatshirt, Frank, and all of them. Tyler was a big influence to me even before we worked together, so when we started working it was like ‘Wow!'”
“It was like ‘Wow!'” How can you not like this kid?
O’Connor is currently on his first mini US tour. I wasn’t able to catch him while he was in New York City earlier this week, but my sources on the ground told me he rocked it. He’s been dropping off a couple loose singles recently and there may be a larger project on the way.
For now, just kick back and let the dulcet, emotive music of Rex Orange County wash over you.
You’ll be gassed to be alive in no time.