“when I’m With Him” By Empress Of Review
As Empress Of, Lorely Rodriguez stirs complex emotional dramas into the pure pleasure of dance pop. Her 2015 debut album, Me, paired wildly expressive beats with razor-sharp lyrics, and she’s continued to hone that combination with the singles she’s released since then. “When I’m With Him,” the latest track from her forthcoming sophomore record Us, injects some space into her usual arrangement, using light, breezy instrumentation as a staging ground for tense reflection on a flawed relationship.
Rodriguez appeared as a guest vocalist on Blood Orange’s 2016 album Freetown Sound, and some of his songwriting sensibilities seem to have rubbed off on her: Dev Hynes’ smoothest songs are often his most thematically conflicted. On “When I’m With Him,” Rodriguez pours so much sunshine into the air, it’s easy to miss the turbulent scenario unfolding in her lyrics. “I can’t help but repress/All of the signs telling me that I’m not fine,” she sings in a grounded deadpan. Reverb-heavy drums carry the beat, while glowing synthesizers and muted funk guitars supply texture beneath her breathy vocals. But it’s the chorus that gives “When I’m With Him” its poignant staying power. Rodriguez begins the refrain in a weightless falsetto like she’s pretending everything’s fine, then falls to the middle of her range like she’s crashing back down to reality. “When I’m With Him” treads lightly across a romance that looks perfect on the surface but feels rotten at the core, all while never showing a crack in its bright, easy veneer.