Lorely Rodriguez's evolution over the past half-decade mirrors the twists and turns of indie rock itself. She first appeared as a member of Brooklyn's Celestial Shore, a quirky art-rock quartet rising in the wake of Dirty Projectors and Vampire Weekend. After debuting her Empress Of alias with a series of color-coded song snippets on YouTube, she released an EP of shimmering synthpop just as kindred spirits like Phantogram, Grimes, and Purity Ring were crossing over. Now, she's stepping up as an avant-R&B auteur with pop star potential—like a Björk unleashing her inner Beyoncé. But each step of the way, Rodriguez has gradually become a more captivating singer, compelling songwriter, and creative producer. And what makes the first proper album from Empress Of so impressive is that it's not just Rodriguez's most outwardly pop-focused work to date, but also her most restlessly experimental and—as suggested by that stark, Horses-style cover shot—lyrically raw.
It's that last point that provides the real revelation on Me. True to its title, Me is a vessel for Rodriguez's most personal thoughts; she wrote these songs during an extended sojourn to central Mexico, where she lived alone for five weeks at a friend's house in a remote small town. The intense isolation provided the opportunity to reflect upon her life back in Brooklyn with great clarity, as she laments the financial hardships of trying to make rent in a gentrified city (the steamy slow jam "Standard") while acknowledging the luxury of living in a country with potable H20 (the rippling house of "Water Water"). But for the most part, Me is a requiem for a doomed romance, and the greatest measure of Rodriguez's confidence is just how candid and vulnerable she allows herself to be here.