Rex Orange County Rex Orange County Rex Orange County Rex Orange County Rex Orange County Rex Orange County Rex Orange County 
  Rex Orange County Rex Orange County Rex Orange County Rex Orange County Rex Orange County Rex Orange County Rex Orange County 

Rex Orange County, singer-songwriter, still only 23, a beloved artist to everyone from old friend and collaborator Tyler, The Creator to the over twelve million monthly Spotify listeners who’ve streamed his top five tracks some one billion times, presents, WHO CARES?, a sparkling fourth album that shouldn’t really be here.

The Surrey-born artist formerly known as Alex O’Connor should have spent 2020 touring his last album, 2019’s Pony, which charted top 5 in the US and the UK. But as we all know, over the past year or so, planning anything has been a fool’s errand. So, after cutting his Pony tour short in Berlin in March 2020, Rex Orange County, like many of us, retreated home to his parent’s house in a small Surrey village. Soon, though, his traveling musician’s antennae were twitching (“all I knew was being on tour”), and in September, he and his friend and bass player Joe MacLaren took a road trip to Amsterdam.

They played music all the way there, played music all the way back, and in the four days in between, made music for 48 giddy hours with Rex Orange County’s old friend Benny Sings, the Dutch producer with whom he’d made 2017’s sun-strewn disco-pop gem “Loving Is Easy.”

“Benny’s just this incredible force, he can make music incredibly quickly and creatively. He has a strange process where he works on Pro Tools and chops things – things I’d never think to do. So we work very well together, he’s very quick, and I’m not.”

Which brings us to WHO CARES? – an album begun in those two days, in which they came up with seven or eight song ideas, four of which Rex Orange County loved. The ease, and their simpatico relationship, got him thinking: “If I wrote good lyrics for these, I’d put these out. And it sounds like the beginning of an album.”

After driving back to the UK, he instantly called Benny: “would he want to do a whole record?” Cue 10 more days working back in Amsterdam, Monday to Friday for two weeks, doing 16 more songs. Those were cut down to 12, then down to 11. As simple, as powerful, as that. These 11 songs were written and recorded quick smart in late 2020: no mess, no fuss, some weed… They’re the sound of an artist managing to cut loose and cut free in a time when, of course, no one was free and everyone was (up)tight.

And what new tunes, one of which, the strings-laden, neo-but-retro-soul epic “OPEN A WINDOW” features an inspired rap from Tyler, The Creator, a pay-it-back moment after the then-teenage English kid contributed two tracks to the exalted hip hop trailblazer’s Flower Boy album.

“I think because I knew I was on a deadline of only being there for two weeks, I couldn’t overthink the songs and had to go with what came naturally both musically and lyrically.”

“It was just a very fun time. And I’m proud and surprised that we created an album in 12 days– I never thought I’d be able to make something that quickly that I loved.”

You can hear that excitement, that sense of an artist at play, all over WHO CARES?

It opens with “KEEP IT UP,” a vibey, upbeat song with an encouraging message: “Keep it up and go on, you’re only holding out for what you want, you no longer owe the strangers.” That lyric became, in a way, his album-long mission statement.

“It was precisely what I felt like I needed to be told – I would listen to that sometimes in the morning. It was just a very apt message for right now.”

It’s followed by “OPEN A WINDOW,” on which “the thought process was pretty instant. At first, it had a recording of me mumbling, which is always how I’d do it with Benny – I’d do mumbled guide vocals which he would chop up to help make a melody, and I’d write the lyrics to that.”

“After we started ‘OPEN A WINDOW,’ I remember going back to the Airbnb and listening to the mumbling, and the first thing I thought about was Tyler. So I texted him the song, and nothing happened for a while. Then eventually, he FaceTimed me, asked me the BPM, and a few hours later, he sent his verse. He nailed it. I love it.”

Switching it up again is “THE SHADE,” on which Rex Orange County’s sleepy-eyed croon has never sounded more soulful.

“Benny produced that pretty much all by himself and quite quickly. I played glockenspiel, wrote the lyrics, and wrote the melody, but other than that, he sat at his desk and did the instrumentation in 20, 25 minutes. It felt really nostalgic, like The Police, Steely Dan, Michael MacDonald – there are very simple, Doobie Brother-style chords.”

Then there’s the classy funk of “WORTH IT,” all strings, finger snaps, and topline melody on flute and brass. With a minimal lyric and woodsy feel, it’s the album at its most simple.

Stepping things up is the elegantly lush “AMAZING,” which isn’t much more than a Billie Jean beat and some strings. But wow, what magic that makes for. There’s a similar vibe on the track “IF YOU WANT IT,” all woozy, off-pitch keyboards and Eighties synthpop. “That’s one of my favourite songs on the record and feels like a different sound for me.”

On “ONE IN A MILLION,” the glory is in the vocal harmonies, in the interplay between artist and producer. “Benny has additional vocals on a few of the songs. He picked up the ‘one in a million’ line, and it felt like the instrumentation again should be very sparse, but the vocals are quite big, so I wanted him to do a choir thing at the end, which he did.”

WHO CARES? ends with the title track. It’s an easy and relaxed groove, but with a message of laidback defiance. That tension between how it sounds and what it says is exactly what he was after.

Or as he puts it: “I always like to write a really long, depressing song for the last track! And I always like playing with album architecture. ‘Apricot Princess’ is the first song on that album. Pony is nothing to do with horses. And this is that last song, and it’s meaningless and meaningful. I don’t mind – I’m just enjoying making music right now.”

That’s been Rex Orange County’s approach over the last couple of years. His fourth album, made in close partnership with Benny Sings, is a playful record by an artist in a playful mood. Working with someone who was an ally and a fan, wingman, and cheerleader – and someone who stretched him and spurred him to write and record an album in 12 days. The outcome… WHO CARES? by Rex Orange County.

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