[Terrible Records; 2020]

Lorely Rodriguez’s debut album as Empress Of was a bold foray into the modern pop sphere. Simply titled Me, the record created a portrait of Rodriguez searching for herself, lost in reflection amidst an all-consuming romantic relationship. If that album dealt with the thrills of lust and indulging in passion, her third full-length album, titled I’m Your Empress Of, is the emotional hangover from its inevitable end. 

Though this new album still mines similar personal turmoil and deep-seated desires, it’s clear from the get-go Rodriguez made these songs to be a cathartic experience for the listener as well. I’m Your Empress Of does away with many of the overused pop-tropes employed with diminishing returns on her sophomore effort Us, and, instead, finds Rodriguez taking inspiration from club music. The result is her most danceable album yet, filled with lush synthesizers and deceptively intricate beats. 

Many of these songs conjure the myriad of phases and feelings experienced after a tough breakup. On the early stunner “Void”, Rodriguez introduces how a failed relationship started to sour. “Every apology got worse / An anthology of empty words / You never listen when I said, ‘It hurts’ / I talk big, but don’t know my worth,” she exclaims. Across the 12 brisk tracks, there’s rarely a moment of respite from the emotional baggage she is desperately trying to unload, with the two exceptions being “Bit of Rain” and “Hold Me Like Water”. “Bit of Rain” details the exhilaration of two lovers discovering their attraction for one another over one of the most energetic instrumentals on the entire album. Conversely, “Hold Me Like Water” is one of the only true ballads and finds Rodriguez at her most vulnerable. “Hold me like water / Hold my taste in your mouth,” she sings, almost begging for the moment to last forever. 

Rodriguez said she wrote this batch of songs in a short two-month burst while she was by herself in her apartment, but I’m Your Empress Of feels like it was created with a crowded space in mind. Nearly every track could be blasted at a nightclub and would get people on their feet, but there’s no better example than “Love Is A Drug”. With its skittering percussion surrounding a four-on-the-floor beat and pulsating synths, the track is both hypnotic and alluring, drawing in the listener with its repeated vocal mantra. Compared to her icy-sounding debut and lackluster follow-up effort, the instrumentals on her third album are brimming with warmth and texture. The heavenly synths and airy vocals on “Give Me Another Chance” make the track sound like it’s about to evaporate, while the sharp percussive jabs on “Awful” hit you like a slap in the face.

Occasionally, the songs tend to bleed into each other a bit too well, causing tracks such as “Maybe This Time” and “Not The One” to get lost in the fold. And though she is able to effectively get her points across most of the time, her writing doesn’t always land as heavy as it should, and lines like “How could no one ever let you down? / Now I know, something tells me you ain’t down,” end up sounding somewhat clunky. 

Where Us reached too far to try connecting with the audience, I’m Your Empress Of finds Rodriguez looking inward, ultimately making her lyrics more relatable as a whole. There is a lot of vulnerability and desperation woven into these tracks, but also a clear sense of self and a determination to become a stronger individual. Rodriguez’s mom, who is the only other voice to appear on the record, helps convey this through a few well-placed spoken interjections. In the outro of “Void”, the final lines come in the form of a piece of advice from her mom. “‘Woman is a word,” she says. “But you make yourself the woman you wanna be.” This theme of identity carries throughout the album; the heartbreak, the negative thoughts, the anger, the yearning, and finding the strength to overcome everything – they all help shape her character going forward. 

After the disappointing Us, it’s refreshing to see Rodriguez experiment with new styles and textures on I’m Your Empress Of. Though her inspirations have shifted more toward the dancefloor rather than R&B and pop, her knack for crafting catchy synth lines and soaring vocals is as strong as it’s ever been. On the bitter closing track “Awful”, Rodriguez admits she is “taking two steps back every time,” but after delivering such a bold and entrancing set of songs, it’s hard not to see what a big leap forward she took on this album. 

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