Lorely Rodriguez’s third album, largely written and produced alone, refocuses her voice into an emotionally and aesthetically rich album of heartbreak, family history, and pop delights.
Lorely Rodriguez has created an album that moves like oil in water. I’m Your Empress Of is more elegantly constructed and beats-focused, yet no less imaginative than the noise-pop wedgie she gave listeners on her 2015 debut Me. Muffled snatches of chatter, the voice of her Rodriguez’s own mother, and a zesty club pulse bind the 12 tracks of her third album together to create a short, ambitious song cycle that reinstates Rodriguez among electronic pop’s auteurs.
Empress Of’s scattered previous album, 2018’s Us, took two and a half years and a cast of collaborators to make. In contrast, all but two of I’m Your Empress Of’s songs were produced and written by Rodriguez alone over two feverish months. Reeling from a recent break-up and the zig-zagging adrenaline of a relentless tour schedule, Rodriguez would wake early and set to work in her home studio in Los Angeles, using songwriting to release trauma and confusion. In purging emotional extremes, Rodriguez rises from the embers of heartbreak to hit on a personal and artistic truth: She is better off alone.
Thriving in solitude is cause for celebration, as a triumvirate of bangers makes clear. “Bit Of Rain,” the album’s first track proper, is a stormy flirtation with trap snares and imagistic fragments. “You closed your eyes/Heavy blinds to a house/I want everything inside to spill out,” she sings, like Pablo Neruda at the club. At other times, she is more direct. In the chorus, a forthright declaration is accompanied by a clap of thunder: “I want you under me.” Even more carefree is “Love Is A Drug,” a breathless, buoyant ode to carnal hedonism, while the dancefloor confection “U Give It Up” (produced by Jim-E Stack) feels like a poison-pinkie text dashed off to an ex on the way to the dancefloor. “When something bites/You pull back scared to fight,” Rodriguez intones. You can imagine her raising her hands to laser lights as she sings.
I’m Your Empress Of is a vivisection of heartache, as if Rodriguez is working through the five stages of grief in real-time. She beats herself up for her choices in “Should’ve” among blasts of static and high-pitched squeaks that sound like a moth’s legs stuck in molten rubber. At its most extreme, her self-examination evokes violence. “I get off on being awful to myself,” Rodriguez sings plainly in the album closer “Awful,” in which sharp thwacks bring to mind the slam of flesh into metal. “I need some help.” It’s a chilling moment delivered with flair, the kind of eureka moment that could take a year of therapy to hit on.
While poring over I’m Your Empress Of’s lyrics suggests an author with fresh wounds, the album is also a showcase for Rodriguez’s production abilities at this new peak. The lead single, “Give Me Another Chance,” is a rush of Eurodance, and in the balearic-inspired mid-tempo “Void,” Rodriguez Auto-Tunes her vocals to suggest weightlessness, her ennui dusted with clouds of powdered sugar. “What’s The Point,” is shot through with pitter-patters of drum’n’bass percussion, and you can imagine the song’s thick, creeping bass whipping crowds into a frenzy at a festival (failing that in the foreseeable future, your living room speakers will do the trick). In the hands of a less sure-handed artist the whiplash between emotional extremes could be jarring, but Rodriguez makes it feel delightfully dizzying. What is life in the digital age if not a constant pinball between joy and despair?
One of Rodriguez’s earliest ambitions as Empress Of was to be “weird.” The first music she shared was a homemade series of wonky electronic oddities titled Color Minutes, but by the time of her second album, she was drawing from the high gloss hip-pop of Ariana Grande. Yet the creative furrow she finds on I’m Your Empress Of is enriched by Rodriguez looking closer to home, an impulse literalized with the inclusion of spoken-word passages delivered by her mom, Reina, a first-generation immigrant from Honduras. Reina’s unguided reflections move from proud messages of survival to love and femininity, providing a guiding light while foregrounding the album as in conversation with shared Latinx immigrant histories. “It was not easy speaking English,” Reina says on the album intro, after Rodriguez plays a bright salsa piano line that she learned from her father. “It was not easy having to learn it,” continues Reina. “But I got it.”
I’m Your Empress Of vibrates with the contradictions that one person can contain: how mourning the loss of a partner is bound up with anger, the fatigue of resilience, and the pleasures to be found in escaping it all, if only for one lusty night. With unexpected production and left-field samples, Rodriguez’s album is powered by a heady rawness that bucks the trend for theatrical concepts in today’s electronic pop nonconformists, producing epiphanies like hot stones spat from a fire. You could say it is as addictive as modern love.