Brendan Rice, popularly known as Gus Dapperton, has one of the most recognizable voices in current pop music, though his nasal crooning may be identifiable to a fault for some. Rice’s sound is most easily described as a blend of synth pop and whimsical indie, spritzed with angsty alt-rock. And while he stays true to his signature dream-pop tone on his sophomore LP Orca, it’s clear that his sound evolved distinctly from his debut album Where Polly People Go to Read — a more synth-heavy project with less lyrical substance.
The new sound Rice incorporates in this project is a reflection of his depression and mental health while writing the LP, which released Sept. 18. His depicted isolation and mental fugue drives the narrative of Orca, which is aptly named for the orca’s frequent (and publicized) captivity.
“This new music was conceived by my heart and my heart only,” said Rice in an Instagram post promoting the album. “It is the product of pure and utter pain that would destroy any attempt at hiding my vulnerability.” The album, though filled with darker themes than Rice’s previous work, is nonetheless palatable to a wide audience and not overwhelmingly morbid.
Rice begins the project with “Bottle Opener,” which functions as a direct metaphor for opening up throughout the rest of the narrativized album. He sings, “You never let them get to you/ I always let them get to me” before expressing his frequent attempts to seal his emotions.
He continues this train of thought in “First Aid,” which starts with the lyrics “Sorry ‘bout my head” before getting personal. He emotionally wails, “His name is Bren, don’t forget/ An irrational lament that you left for him on Benedict Drive” in the third verse, self-referencing and remembering a childhood street. This nostalgic mood is common among Rice’s music, which he often deems reminiscent of the ’90s sound.
The track list isn’t strictly filled with an outpour of slower, internal tracks, however. “Post Humorous” and “Bluebird,” two of the four singles released prior to the 10-song LP, serve to balance Rice’s newfound vulnerability with his familiar colorful melodies.
Orca solemns out again for “Palms,” arguably the best piece on the record. Rice balances a soft, hopeful acoustic guitar melody with a grooving bass line and drums. The track reflects on a toxic relationship, and on the bridge he laments, “I should’ve seen that you needed some help, love/ You said, ‘Enough, I am done with the self love.’ ”
There are often moments when Rice seems to appeal to a sort of angst through brash wordplay, almost unnecessarily so. For one, he sings “We fuck in ocean water/ To repent our sins” on “Palms,” which has little substance aside from its immediate shock value.
“My Say So,” the following track, is a departure from the rest of Orca. Rice trades off a reflective, vulnerable mood for a jumpy, youthful melody driven by a xylophone. This is also the only song which features another artist, as Filipino Australian artist Chela solos on the bridge and guides the background vocals.
“Grim” is a similarly simplistic track, relying on a few chords and Rice’s signature emotional croon, though its content is darker than much of the rest of the record. “You hate my guts, I love it when you cuss” is another attempt at shock value lyricism, but coupled with the song’s droning nature, it doesn’t come off as such.
Rice wraps up the album with three ballads, each clearly some of the most introspective work in his discography. “Antidote” and “Medicine” share similar themes of self-destructive repair, developing his narrative of transparency.
His wailing doesn’t match the soft acoustic guitar in the closing piece “Swan Song,” yet Rice pulls it off in a succinct expression of the vulnerability he expressed throughout the LP.
Orca is a step into a new, introspective realm for Rice. And while every track doesn’t pin his message directly or efficiently, it is clear that Rice is taking full-length albums more seriously now. Whereas Where Polly People Go to Read falls flat in consistency and is oversaturated with synths and experimental sounds, Orca is a personal narrative, fit with stellar production and a newfound self-awareness.