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  • Writer's pictureBenjamin Kassel

I felt down, but "KEEP IT UP" helped me be a bit more positive

Rex Orange County's new release is a simple indie pop slice that speaks to the drive one gets from valuing themself and their endeavors.

I... get discouraged very easily these days. Whether it comes to staying up late to finish work due in the morning, or looking forward at an increasingly uncertain future, I more often than not end up with a more dour outlook on something once I've finished it. That isn't a fun way to live live, so I've spent a lot of time trying to improve my outlook, to varying degrees of almost success.

Thankfully, one of the best ways for me to feel better about myself when I'm not completely down in the dumps is to put on the right sort of music. I was pleasantly surprised today when I saw Rex Orange County, one of the best talents to emerge from the 20-teens, had released a new single last week. I listened to "KEEP IT UP" for the first time, and lo and behold, it helped me get out of my temporary funk. It's a light stroke of indie pop with an uplifting message, complemented by emotive strings that keep the song tender at its narrative selling point.

I find "KEEP IT UP" to have a very endearing instrumental. It has a simplicity and warmth that makes it both easy and pleasant to follow. The chord progression in A-flat Major is reminiscent of the classic Pachelbel's Canon progression, with a bit of variance in using inversions to form a smooth bass line that complements the rest of the song's easygoing nature. The electric piano, bass guitar, and drums all combine to form a light instrumental underneath Rex Orange County's vocals in the verses.

Of course, those instruments are not what is heard the first time through progression — that would be the strings. String instruments can occupy a vast array of roles within popular music, from filling out an instrumental and providing additional melodies like in the Temptations' "Get Ready" to taking the lead role in the ensemble as they do in the Verve's "Bitter Sweet Symphony." On "KEEP IT UP," Rex Orange County (whose real name is Alexander O'Connor, and who is actually from the England) uses strings to introduce the song through a full playing of its chord progression, then returns to them in choruses. The strings' consonance and simple chord voicings matches the rest of the instruments quite well, and it also adds the sort of nostalgia and tenderness one would expect from strings in 21st century pop. This emotional backdrop works very well with lyrics that ultimate center around valuing yourself.

Above the collection of instruments, Rex Orange County sings about dealing with the regrets he faces in his daily life. He speaks to the anxiety that comes with the pressure of his artistic success; the blessing of being "in a place in front of a dozen / People I've nevеr met" — a statement that may perhaps evoke a small concert venue or a meeting with a record label — is also what's eating at him from the inside. However, he ultimately reconciles this stress with his chorus, in which he reminds himself, "You're only holding out for what you want / You no longer owe the strangers." If he's pursuing these musical endeavors for himself, they will be fulfilling in a way appealing to others won't. The chorus adds a healthy dose of self-worth to the song, and it imparts onto its listeners that it's okay to not feel guilty to put yourself and your own desires first.

As I think about where my next steps in life will take me, I hope to adhere to a key idea Rex Orange County imparts on "KEEP IT UP": that much happiness in life comes from doing things for yourself and your personal benefit, often over putting other people ahead of you. I've always struggled with doing such that, especially with my innate anxiety increasing my desire to please others, sometimes at the risk of neglecting my own needs. Hopefully this song will end up sticking with me, both for its motivational ends and for its downright calming sound that should ideally help me achieve said ends.


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