Look at Me now

Lorely Rodriguez has unleashed her debut with stark images of her on the cover

An air of mystery can be an emerging musician's best friend.

Several singers have mastered the art of social media to fuel interest in them, deftly dropping breadcrumbs of information that prove distracting rather than elucidating.

One remembers the amazing ascent of Lana Del Rey, the one-woman project of New Yorker Lizzie Grant who posted homemade videos onto YouTube in 2010 where she painted herself as a "gangsta Nancy Sinatra".

Two years later, a doll-like Londoner called Tahliah Barnett, who goes by the name of FKA twigs, self-released her debut, cryptically titled EP1, and posted some surreal, body-contorting videos on You- Tube too.

The latest artist to follow in their footsteps is Lorely Rodriguez, a New York-based Los Angeleno who posted in 2012 Colorminutes, a series of one-minute demos via the same streaming channel under the moniker Empress Of. The tracks were simply numbered 1 through 15. There was no picture of her or biographical data. There was instant buzz.



    Empress Of XL Recordings

    4/5 STARS

Fast forward to this year and she has now unleashed her full-length debut boldly titled Me. Then there is that stark, black-and-white image of her on the cover. It references the seminal shot of Patti Smith on her 1975 album Horses, by Robert Mapplethorpe.

It's a declaration of intent: Look at me.

It worked. Rodriguez is gaining a reputation as an indie synth-pop maven, in the mould of FKA twigs, or Grimes gone confessional - or a latter-day "Bjork unleashing her inner Beyonce", as a reviewer puts it rather rapturously.

Self-produced and recorded when she was on a self-exile retreat at a lake house outside Mexico City, Me is a lucid-eyed documentation of an affair, or affairs, gone awry, but played out on a dance floor. It's catchy as hell.

The last track Icon is an R&B dirge pervaded by clicks and what can pass off as proto-Atari game console effects. "I took too many pills to be sleeping/And the memory of you keeps on creeping," she sings clearly as the music washes over her.

"I'm struggling to keep my secrets as we ordered a drink that's the cheapest," she recalls the tug-of- war in a relationship gone bad.

Make Up physicalises this passive-aggressiveness on a sado-masochistic level.

The emollient dance beats belie the terrible hurt and incredible love.

In the gorgeous opener Everything Is You, she swings between devotion and deprecation. "All I want to be is you," she sings, gurgling girlishly, before commanding, "Don't tell me who I am."

The synths swell wave after wave, as she coos, helplessly caught up in the whirlpool.

It's not all about her. In the reverb-laden Water Water, she acknowledges the bourgeois perk of living in a country with access to potable drinking water.

"Water, water is a privilege/Just like kids who go to college," she proffers a rhyming aphorism which makes an apt motto for the next water conservation programme by the Public Utilities Board.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 14, 2015, with the headline 'Look at Me now'. Print Edition | Subscribe