Monday, September 17th, 2018

Empress of – When I’m With Him

As our thoughts turn to fall…


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[7.88]

Julian Axelrod: Los Angeles is an inherently isolating city, with every neighborhood splattered across its sprawl and a commute culture consisting of personal transportation boxes. Even natives can’t help but feel disconnected from the city that birthed them, one that can’t help but push its people away. “When I’m With Him” is already a masterful exploration of loneliness in love; the panic attack toms and prom-ready synth glaze make your heart feel like it’s trapped in amber, while Lorely Rodriguez’s weathered wail reaches out through the darkness. But watching Rodriguez smolder through the streets where I grew up only deepens the song’s resonance, especially after several years away. Los Angeles is a city that nurtures you even as it nudges you away. You can live inside it your whole life and still feel like an outsider. Watching it through that lens, Empress Of’s pointed Spanish asides cut even deeper: “I distance myself more and you can’t see it.” There’s nothing more crushing than giving all of yourself to something that doesn’t need you.
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Juana Giaimo: Empress of’s debut album looked for tension in the sound: it had loud noises and her vocal melody had abrupt changes. Now, rather than looking for dissonance, she builds up a very pleasing song. The beat is steady and there are short guitar notes in the background (ones we are used to hearing in Haim), which gives a sunny atmosphere. And suddenly, after the falsetto of the chorus, her voice gets lower, the beat quieter. Spanish being my first language, I can’t avoid the meaning of the first two lines of the second verse: “You wanted more of what it could be/I get further away and you can’t see it.” She sounds reflexive, but it is a subtle break from what came before that shows that underneath the calm and polished sound, there is nostalgia for something that she knows is going to end. 
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Vikram Joseph: Since long before I was old enough to understand it, September has filled me with a penetrating, intangible malaise — the watery sun, receding daylight hours, florid leaves (magnificent, but undeniably terminal). “When I’m With Him” captures this soft decay exquisitely. Set against a fuzzy, sepia-hued drift — those last warm days sending off late, lonely sparks into cool, early sunsets — Lorely Rodriguez sings of the autumn of a relationship; the inexplicable, irreversible atrophy of romantic feelings. The lyrics in Spanish, aside from sounding stunning, help conceptualise the idea of an insurmountable emotional/communication barrier. It’s a close cousin of Solange’s “Losing You,” and like Solange, Rodriguez’s timbre is one of resignation, but undercut with a profound sadness (if you doubt the latter, just hear the beautiful, poignant waver on “trying but don’t know why-y-y” in the middle eight). She’s submitting to the change of season, but still reluctant to let go of the vestiges of the one that’s already disappearing into the rearview.
[9]

Eleanor Graham: Nothing like some synthy ambivalence to flavour our lattes as the cooler weather drifts in! I don’t really have a problem with talented pop girls remaking “Everything Is Embarrassing.” In fact I think this song strengthens the argument that they should all have to, by law.
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Will Adams: At times, it takes very simple concepts to convince me. “Everything Is Embarrassing” with more rhythm section is one of those.
[7]

Jonathan Bradley: The bleacher-stomp beat places this in a high school gym right alongside that prom night synth swell, and the shivers of guitar coloring the mix confirm that our scene takes place in the filmed confines of a 1980s movie. Lorely Rodriguez builds up the heartache with quick fluttering syllables that don’t quite lead to a chorus arresting enough to justify them, though the sighing, drawn-out way she pronounces “hi-iim” comes close.
[7]

Jacob Sujin Kuppermann: This didn’t click for me until the bridge started and that drum fill, simultaneously buried under layers of amorphous synths and pianos and beaming directly to you in perfect clarity, arrived. It’s a small note in what is otherwise a self-assured, well-written, but kind of boring song, but it’s one of those small details that complicates and enriches a song into something interesting and fulfilling.
[7]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: You never fucking learn, do you. These are the words I hear when I put on “When I’m With Him.” They’ve crowded my mind for years, readily accusing me when I make the smallest of mistakes, when I fail to meet my own standards, when I feel the most unlovable. Six years ago, Sky Ferreira’s “Everything is Embarrassing” encapsulated the numbing humiliation of love lost. Its forlorn spirit — one of expectant dejection and a solitary mourning — is found here, and listening to both songs has proven similar to reading one of my old journals. Leafing through the entries, I’m always astounded that my anxieties haven’t changed. I’m still crippled by the same self-doubt, painfully ashamed of the huge gulf between who I want to be and who I currently am. When Lorely Rodriguez laments her inability to be honest, she does so with a comparable discontentment. “I’m going back and forth like branches in the breeze,” she sings, and the song’s other lyrics constantly reflect that nauseating vacillation. Most crushing is the difference between the pre-chorus (“I don’t know how to tell you“) and the chorus (“I don’t know how to love, I pretend when I’m with him“). It signals further distancing from confronting the situation, and a concession to the same unhealthy behaviors. The result, however, shouldn’t be perceived as any form of action; it’s inaction, it’s paralysis, it’s fear. But it’s easier to deny your loneliness than to face it head-on with a breakup you initiate. And as uneasy as it may feel, it’s a comfortable decision — the one that doesn’t require you to make one.
[8]

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