Show Review: Emily Bear at Cafe 939 (11/8)

On Friday night, Emily Bear captivated a loyal audience of friends, family, and fans that filled the room at Café 939. On tour promoting her new Emotions EP, Emily Bear reinvented the atmosphere of Cafe 939 in a way that was uniquely her own. 

From beginning to end, Bear immediately broke down the walls that separate the artist from the audience with her casual demeanor and charming personality, converting strangers into fans. With every song came personal stories with themes ranging from feeling the pain of heartbreak to owning that same pain and repurposing it in a positive way. She moved the audience with these stories, illustrating them with transparency proving her emotional depth.

One of the most interesting elements of Emily’s performance was the way she utilized her classical piano background to compliment her more contemporary pop songs. With the support of her band (Max Gerl, Kyle Thornton, and Nathan Hicks), her swift piano phrases merged effortlessly with her rich voice. As the show progressed, the intimate nature of the performance was heightened by the distinct chemistry Emily had with her band. During every solo, each band member displayed their reverence for one another, flashing faces of approval as if in a jam session. Some of my favorite moments involved her moving from the center stage keyboard to the grand piano that hung back with the band. It was special to witness her pouring all her energy into complex classical arrangements after being astonished by the tremendous piano skills she maintained while singing her original music. 

The room was especially impressed by her rendition of Elvis Presley’s, “I Can’t Help Falling in Love With You,” and The Beach Boys’, “God Only Knows,” showcasing her voice in a way unlike any of the other songs. Throughout the show, Emily progressively proved her songwriting prowess, with every original sounding different from the last. Her capabilities were even more notable when she sang a new original called “Ghosted” that she had only performed once the night before. With relatable lyrical content that elevated in the pre-chorus atop a bassline driven arrangement, “Ghosted” is a strong representation of Emily Bear’s songwriting chops.

 With an exceedingly high level of talent and character, Emily Bear is down-to-earth and carries herself with grace, possessing the potential to command the world stage. As an experienced musician, songwriter, and vocalist, she brings a heavy arsenal to the table and is able to wear a lot of hats. The capability she has to achieve greatness was apparent at her show on Friday and I hope to see more from her in the future.

BIRN Album Review: Pony by Rex Orange County

After releasing albums Bcos U Will Never B Free (2015) and Apricot Princess (2017), singer-songwriter Alex O’Connor most commonly known as Rex Orange County, has returned with the release of his third full-length album Pony. Writing and recording the entirety of the album with help from producer Ben Baptie, the 21-year-old has outdone himself with an engaging soundscape of bedroom soul that illustrates his feelings from a more juvenile perspective.

Listening to the music of Rex Orange County persuades listeners into believing that they truly know him. As someone who maintains an uncommon sense of creative individuality while also possessing the familiarity to attract listeners, Rex Orange County cannot be held by the confines of genre. His musical personality is precisely described as, “the amalgamation of bedroom pop cosplayers, Odd Future apologists, and old souls.”

From the beginning to the end of Pony, Rex Orange County is transparent with his emotions, utilizing lyrics that make you feel like you’re eavesdropping on his thoughts. In the opening track “10/10,” he candidly admits to having a difficult year and feeling down. Then, with an undertone of hope, he acknowledges how a change of attitude could change his mindset, singing, “I feel like a five, I can’t pretend / but if I get my shit together this year maybe I’ll be a ten.” He continues to acknowledge his journey to a place of stability in the song “Always,” while harnessing a boyish mindset that craves dependency, singing, “But until somebody sits me down / And tells me that I’m different now / I’ll always be the way I always am.” Rex Orange County shamelessly revisits this adolescent outlook throughout the album to communicate the way most 21-year olds feel at this time in their lives.

His focus starts to shift on songs like “Face to Face” and “Stressed Out.” Both songs talk about trust issues but are illustrated in different ways. “Face to Face” uses the theme of a long distance relationship to describe being in a place outside of his comfort zone and not knowing who to trust, longing to be back with her. “Stressed Out” is an extension of this feeling. “They wanna take what’s yours / They wanna go to dinner on your name / I let them take control and take me for a fool / It’s such a shame,” describes the way he lets people use him even though he can’t trust them. Rex Orange County approaches the close of the album with an uplifting tone that exudes positivity. With strong rhythmic drive and layered vocals that soar through orchestral strings, “It Gets Better” is one of the album’s best and most honest love songs about his long-term girlfriend Thea. The final song on the album, “It’s Not The Same Anymore,” revisits the overall theme of Pony but is observed through a different lens. “I’ll keep the pictures saved in a safe place / Wow, I look so weird here / My face has changed now,” acknowledges the reality that he has grown up and his life will never be as simple as it once was. This song is meant to conclude the “boy inside my thoughts” perspective Rex Orange County has maintained throughout the album, closing one chapter and opening a new one.