This is a strange one. Not in terms of how it sounds, necessarily. I mean, electro-pop with robo-vocals: I’m not exactly covering new ground here.
Or am I? Because beyond the polished pop exterior of Roxie Cola’s Neon Heart EP, there something is particularly unique at work.
Opening track “There 4 U” begins with a little dialogue. With a tone of gleeful innocence, Cola introduces herself: ‘Um, well my name is Roxie and I have a few songs written for you. I hope you like them and I love you.’
It’s so sickly sweet that I worried about developing diabetes the first time I heard it. With the airy chords and peppy tempo, I was primed for something charming but disposable. But then I started to notice a little edge creeping in.
Being there for someone forever and ever and always is a classic sentiment in pop. But lines like ‘I can take care of you. I know you don’t need me to’ and ‘I want to tell the truth, I want you only for myself’ did raise an eyebrow. Now there’s always been something a bit obsessive (dare I say stalker-ish) about teen love songs, but it quickly became clear that Cola is consciously leaning into this.
Track two, “Baby” finds Cola again appealing to the object of their affections. Musically this song mixes things up with a little more bass and breakbeats. Still, it’s the lyrics which really make it. ‘Baby you’re the acid to my alkaline’ is a great line, and it dragged my thoughts off in some strange directions.
If my secondary school chemistry is anything to go by, mixing acids with alkalis produces water and salt. Two different things come together and leave behind something thin and bitter. I know I’m going off on a weird tangent here, but that’s one of the things which makes Neon Heart so great. It’s a weird record carrying a lot of weird symbolism. Which then contrasts wildly with its sound.
On her Instagram, Cola describes herself as ‘An outcast angel’ who sometimes gets mad, and ‘That is dreadful.’ Keep that in mind when you get to track three: “Morning Star.”
I’m sure we’re all well versed in Biblical lore here, but for those at the back: the term “Morning-star” relates to Lucifer. On a record you might expect your little sister to cue up, there is a nod to the literal Devil.
The song itself carries some chiptune. I was reminded of early Sonic the Hedgehog levels, so there’s also a nod towards more innocent times. But…LUCIFER.
It was around this point that I started noticing little things about Neon Heart’s cover art. This is some quality pixel art. But what’s with the all-seeing eye in the top right-hand corner? And that’s a snake in the bottom left, isn’t it? And someone please tell me what’s going on with her face:
With that satanic panic out of the way, let’s get back to the music.
“V8” proves that Cola is wise to a lot of the modern trends in mainstream pop. Specifically, its crossbreeding with country music. The steel guitar, the vocal twang, the imagery of riding backroads and drinking moonshine.
It’s all very charming and a smart acknowledgement of life in a post-bro-country/Lil Nas X landscape. Like “Morning Star” and the EP’s terrifying artwork, “V8” shows us that Cola has a lot of confidence in what she’s doing.
Musically “Flatline” falls more in line with the rest of the EP. There are more 16-bit tones in there, which lead us well into the synths. It builds more and more, becoming more techno. This sense of progression is actually a good representation of Neon Heart overall.
This record matures as it goes along. Perhaps ‘Matures’ is the wrong word, but it certainly grows. It never entirely drops the elements presented during “There 4 U,” but it does shift and gains attributes you might not have expected.
Honestly: Neon Heart has been a joy to both listen to and write about. It surprised me, toyed with me and gave me so much to chew on. Roxie Cola may secretly be trying to steal our souls, but at this point, I’m actually okay with that.
You can find Roxie Cola here: