“The power went out/I was alone/Everything died/It was suddenly cold/In a place where it shouldn’t be,” Lauren O’Connell sings at the beginning of “Power Out,” the opening track to their fifth studio record, Everything Feels Ridiculous. It’s a stark sentiment, seemingly at odds with the sparkling backdrop of shimmering major chords behind it, O’Connell’s voice a broadcast of hope.
But it’s an apt juxtaposition to open a record whose guiding thesis is Everything feeling Ridiculous. Though you might expect them to be, the 12 songs on this record aren’t filled with nihilism or empty irreverence. They’re vibrant and sincere, potent with O’Connell’s nascent joy amidst the unfurling of everything they had come to know about themself as both person and artist.
Rigorously and prolifically DIY in their approach, O’Connell has self-produced all four of their preceding full-length studio albums of original music, in addition to countless cover songs. They’ve released all of this music independently to a loyal audience which has followed them from their days as an early YouTube star, recording cover songs alone in their room. But now, they want to do things differently. This record they wanted to make with a producer in Los Angeles.
Nothing about their process needed to change, except they did. In 2021, O’Connell found themself in Berkeley, having just gone through their first breakup as an out queer person. Despite the pain of a relationship’s end, they started to feel a new peace within themself, and an understanding of their queerness as independent of another person or relationship. Whether coincidental or not, old patterns no longer fit. For the first time, they didn’t want to record and produce the songs they were writing alone and isolated.
“Going into this record,” they say, “I was letting go of a lot of things — control over the writing process, as well as the idea that my vision for these songs was ultimately the best treatment for them. I wanted to be surprised. I wanted to be in a state of surrender, as opposed to feeling responsible for every detail.”
That state of surrender is manifest in the music, which was produced by Alex Pfender (Yoya, Lucius), and burbles with an electric mood of openness and play. Guitars ramble, bursting with energy and grit, as if in fierce conversation. Synths flicker as if transmitted through a dream. Each song contains the kernel of its beginnings — O’Connell’s bright and clear voice over a plucked guitar or sustained piano — but unfolds like a blossom emerging in technicolor, dripping with a joy and an ease that belie the often wrenching sentiments in O’Connell’s words.
But the joy in these songs is earned — it’s the fruit of O’Connell’s sometimes painful growth over the past half-decade, first coming out as queer, and then, partway through the recording process, as genderqueer. “I always knew there was something ill-fitting about the way I was socialized, that I had been contorting into a shape that didn’t work, a shape that hurt. I suddenly felt that I could just start from scratch, reevaluate everything I thought I could and couldn’t be, could and couldn’t say.”
This sentiment is deeply felt on “I Wanna Be Your Man,” an ode to loving outside the bounds of convention. “Come over, I want to see/How it feels when you lean into me,” they sing at both the song’s opening and close, a warm invitation into both softness and strength. “The phrase ‘I wanna be your man’ came to the fore before I really knew what I was getting at,” O’Connell says. “But singing it felt resonant in a way I hadn’t experienced when writing about relationships. I was envisioning a way of relating that had never felt available to me. It felt like another inch of light from a door that had lately whispered ajar.”
That light whispers throughout the songs on Everything Feels Ridiculous, even as O’Connell contends with the sense of alienation that can come with being queer in this world. “I want to learn how to rejoice,” they assert on the choruses of “Framingham,” their voice delicate over a distorted piano, ensconced in a swirl of found sounds. Then wondering, “Is it different from relief?” It’s a simple assertion, followed by a question that is at once guileless and burdened by the pain strung throughout queer history, and a longing to be at ease within the self.
That pain and pleasure can exist so effortlessly alongside each other is a testament to O’Connell’s storytelling and the vitality of the sonic arrangements, which both serve to highlight the frustrating truth of self-acceptance — that falling in love with oneself requires letting pieces of ourselves go. “I’m never who I’d prefer to be,” they sing wistfully on “Horsefly.” “It’s like it never occurs to me/to let things go.” And yet, Everything Feels Ridiculous is also a celebration and culmination of all that O’Connell has been, the output of an artist at a creative and personal apex, self-actualized and unrestricted by the constraints of their past.
“So much fear and apprehension comes from thinking we’re supposed to know what to do with a lifetime,” O’Connell reflects. “We never do. We end up with this random collection of vignettes of pain and joy, and maybe they don’t have to detract from one another. Falling in love feels ridiculous, realizing you’re trans feels ridiculous, the human experience feels ridiculous. You might as well splash around in it.”