Vulnerability is the word that I keep returning to when exploring Empress Of’s debut LP Me. You need not look past the simple title to understand why, but it is the listening experience itself that opens us up to the multiple “hows” of vulnerability. There is the vulnerability of presenting yourself to a lover without makeup, there is the vulnerability of admitting the scarcity of our most vital natural resources, there is the vulnerability that comes with the plea to a man on the street that he leave you alone.
Lyrical vulnerability, vulnerability expressed as a motif, is, of course, the most obvious place to look. But producer and singer Lorely Rodriguez delivers her vulnerability in multiple other ways, along with a of paradoxical, yet crucial confidence that makes Me a truly dynamic work. In the structure of the music itself, there is vulnerability: tracks will shift from a catchy and accessible pop-like verse to a bridge where the rhythm and melody seem to hang to each other by a fraying thread, until it all resolves once again with a sigh of relief. In the timbre, there is vulnerability: Rodriguez’s voice, despite lush production, sounds as if it is singing right into your ear, with a closeness that allows you hear both a wavering of clear vibrato and the strength underneath that supports it. It is perhaps a trite revelation at this point, mired in the rhetoric of self-help, but still a thing that so many people do not understand: admitting one’s inevitable vulnerability does not mean relinquishing strength. Rather, the two entities are inextricably dependent upon each other, required to interact to achieve a true sense of wholeness—a wholeness which Me undeniably has.
For me, however, the vulnerability of this album is most important in the way that it updates the conventions and expectations of the producer/singer/songwriter auteur. Because the last and perhaps most important way that Rodriguez explores vulnerability in this record is through her own process of making it, and documenting that process within the record itself. In a fantastic feature on Yours Truly, Rodriguez accounts—with stunning honesty—the fear and doubt that comes with such a daunting task as making an entire LP all by yourself. Especially as a female musician, who can, and often enough (to the point where it is, sadly, becoming expected) does, enlist the help of an outside producer, something that Rodriguez almost did before deciding to go it alone.
The electronic auteur has become a stony-faced monolith in popular representation. Take a look at the style of any Resident Advisor podcast photograph, and try to argue against this. When was the last time you heard a producer talk about the moment where, three or four completed tracks in, they repeatedly opened and closed Ableton or Logic, wondering if this was ever going to really work? This is a vulnerability that is so present in reality, yet so absent in the culture it exists in. It is a vulnerability that could deter others like Rodriguez if they believe, when they encounter it, that it is not normal, if they conflate that fear with a lack of talent or ability. My biggest hope coming out of my experience with Me, is that those who listen to this album and feel inclined to do the same thing, do it, and when they feel that vulnerability creeping in, remember Empress Of, and remember that this vulnerability is not a weakness, but an invaluable asset.
Me is out now via Terrible Records.