Every week, we tell you about an album we think you need to spend time with. This week’s album is Empress Of’s Us, which you can pre-order on vinyl from the Vinyl Me, Please store, here.
I was 5 years old when what I still believe is one of the best films in cinematic history came out: “The Princess Diaries.” But there was one part I didn’t quite understand at the time: Anne Hathaway’s character, high-schooler-turned-princess Mia Thermopolis, is fixated on the idea of having a kiss that makes her foot “pop.” As a kid, I thought this was preposterous. Why would kissing someone make your foot uncontrollably leave the ground for no reason? But the older I get, the more I think about this phenomenon and the more I understand it. Not just because I’ve had the pleasure of kisses that have made my foot unexplainably lift off the ground, but because I’m coming to understand that, on a much larger scale, the energy of love is preposterous and uncontrollable itself. It’s that feeling of lightness and so much pent up electrical current that you need to move in ways that don’t exactly make logical sense. In this sense, Empress Of’s (Lorely Rodriguez) sophomore release Us is an auditory foot-pop.
I’d contend there’ve probably been more songs written about — or rather, because of — that feeling throughout the course of time than there are ounces of water in the ocean or feet from here to the moon. And in part, it’s probably because love’s current is both consuming and confusing; it’s something you can agonize over at all hours of the day and night, and still not be able to pin down. Much of why we dance and cry and write and make music, I believe, is to make sense of energy like that, to get it out of us. That’s why, when an album like Us so perfectly captures — and at times, copies — the exhilarating mania of falling in love with another person, you listen. With a perfectly of-the-moment cocktail of shimmery dance pop, romantic R&B influence and antsy electronic production, Empress Of sonically bottled up the ever-elusive feeling of falling in love.
On electro-disco track “I’ve Got Love,” she sings over sparkly synths and beats that crisply alternate between muted pulses and harsh bursts of what sound like magnified TV static about love running through her fingers and her bones, coming out her pores and down her spine. It’s catchy, fun, exhilarating, like any classically contagious pop song, but there’s an overwhelming chaos to it. On the other hand,“Just the Same,” a breezy tune over a steel drum-reminiscent beat, captures the moments where loving comes as easily as breathing. Rodriguez also explores the simple delights of knowing and being known: “I don’t always know what to say, but you always understand,” pours out on “I Don’t Even Smoke Weed,” a track about how her lover’s presence seems to neutralize her weed-induced anxiety.
Don’t let the initial Disney movie comparison fool you into thinking Us is only a glossy, romanticized depiction of falling in love. Rodriguez makes no impression that love is always simple in the slightest. Instead — especially on tracks like “Trust Me, Baby,” “All for Nothing” or “When I’m With Him” — she keeps it real about the trials and terror of exposing your true self, relying on another person for that addictive feeling they give you, or asking someone to trust you. But as her brilliant electronic production and young-love insight illustrates: Chaotic tension creates the most euphoric release, and the euphoria’s always worth it.
Amileah Sutliff is a New York-based writer, editor and creative producer and an editor of the book The Best Record Stores in the United States.