Music

Self Esteem’s ‘Prioritise Pleasure’ is so staggeringly powerful it bleeds

Self Esteem’s sophomore album Prioritise Pleasure is anything but a slump, despite exploring that theme in some detail. Rather, it is vital in the most rare fashion, and potentially the best record of 2021 you haven’t heard.

Self Esteem is the radically appropriate stage name adopted by UK experimental-pop artist Rebecca Lucy Taylor. Appropriate because, at least going off her latest album Prioritise Pleasure, her music regularly explores the feeling of lacking it, but hits with such force that it can’t help but inspire it in others.

Confidence is a mercurial concept on the album, explored through its relationship with sexuality, interpersonal relationships, and our innermost hopes and desires. At times Taylor comes across as so bruised, battered, and worn down that you almost expect her to disappear into one of the world’s forgotten fault lines.

self esteem
Image: Self Esteem / Olivia Richardson

But then savage sound emerges from silence, like a spark igniting transformation; a gospel choir piecing through the kind of distortion you’d expect from a Skrillex track. Self Esteem’s Prioritise Pleasure has the confidence of an artist that has recently realised that rules are there to be broken, and she’s now smashing through them with glee – like a bull in a china shop.

It makes for a thrilling listening experience, as one might imagine.

Lead single I Do This All The Time is a good place to start for the uninitiated, with its rhythmic spoken word verses recalling the stream-of-consciousness poetry of The Streets. The chorus is a different beast altogether though, pulling every ounce of perseverance from soulful ’90s pop that the form can muster. It’s inspired stuff that is as emotionally complex as it’s musically adventurous.

In many ways that track is the heart of Self Esteem’s Prioritise Pleasure, dealing head on with many of the album’s most slippery subjects; depression, ageing, selfishness, aimlessness, and ultimately, the drive to keep going.

The line “One day I would love to tell you how the best night of your life was the absolute worst of mine” lands with the kind of acidic vitriol you’d expect from Father John Misty, but without even a hint of the irony he often choses to hide behind. It’s an undeniably powerful moment that will still likely divide opinion.

This moment is illustrative of a critical part of Prioritise Pleasure‘s identity, where Taylor’s disarming honesty reveals something that is simultaneously authentic and cruel. It’s a fact of life that we are all made of desires beautiful and grotesque, selfish and altruistic – but to hear it in such plainspoken terms is still confronting.

The first time I heard that line I’ll admit that it put me off. However, the more I thought about it, the more I realised that what made me uncomfortable was that it reminded me of myself. Or as I should clarify: the parts of me I wish were different. To put it bluntly, the track got under my skin.

Prioritise Pleasure in many ways feels like a bloodletting, and that goes some way to explaining why it’s destined to elicit strong responses. But for those that get on its level it, it is sure to provide a richly rewarding listening experience that is unlike anything else released this year.

So go on and give it a go – it’ll rattle you if nothing else.

Prioritise Pleasure is out now via Virgin Music Australia.