Rocket by (Sandy) Alex G is potentially the most fruitful, honest and continually surprising record released this year, if not in the last ten years. The Multifaceted and disjointed nature of Alex G’s song-craft in combination with his allusive lyrical perspective allows Rocket to reject all indie clichés and to carve out a space of its own.
A space in constant fluctuation, jumping from Country and Americana to experimental electro in a matter of minutes. Rocket is certainly Alex G’s most accessible album to date, but upholds a warped allure through its careful exploitation of experimental effects, unusual song structures and multidimensional instrumentation.
Alex Giannascoli started his career from his bedroom, taking a DIY approach to music production and building up a strong fan base via numerous Band camp releases. His success as a musician has often been characterised by its close relationship to the media platform. However it seems wrong to assume Giannascoli’s success was ever wholly reliant on it.
The Philadelphia based musician simply wanted to share his music with the world and that site must have seemed to be the most obvious way to go about doing so. As a prolific songwriter, Giannascoli has frequently demonstrated his ability to churn out fantastic records one after the other.
His sixth album DSU was featured as one the best albums of 2014 by the likes of Noisey, Vogue, Consequence of Sound, The Washington Post and Time Out magazine. Rocket is no exception, adding to the burgeoning idea that Alex G is perhaps the most insightful and ingenious artists around.
Rocket, like many of Giannascoli’s previous records, continues to demonstrate the influence of Eliot Smith on his creative process and lo-fi production technique. A sense of intimacy pervades the songs throughout the record. For example in Poison Root, muffled double-tracked vocals intertwine with close-miked acoustic guitar and mellow piano to form a track which, in combination with an agitated chord progression, manages to establish a direct emotional connection between the listener and performer.
In many ways, it is Alex G’s talent as a producer which allows Rocket to transcend the frankly stifling indie-folk genre in the way it does, an incredible feat for an artist who records on a laptop as opposed to a mixing desk. In “Sportstar“, Giannascoli blends a resonant grand piano track with reversed guitar distortion and a vocal line reinforced with an almost clinical amount of auto tune.
These elements are in constant conflict with each other, as well as with the intimate lyrical focus of the song. Yet, rather than being unpleasant in their discordancy, these conflicting elements result in a bewilderingly beautiful portrayal of self-loathing, anger and disillusionment.
Similarly, in “Horse” and “Brick“, we are invited to bathe in a pool of effects-driven chaos which can be argued to elevate Rocket into the realm of the experimental, a realm in which aggression, impulse and the inexplicable reign supreme.
However, it is also Giannascoli’s ability to write songs which seem to constantly oscillate between genres which enables Rocket to carve out a space for itself in the indie market. The irony is that the reason for this is Alex G’s rejection of a market altogether.
For Example in “County“, we are introduced to a song initially characterised by warm layers of harmonised vocals, glittering synthesizers and delicate piano, which quickly transform into jazz-infused guitar bends and organ lines.
This swift tonal and harmonic fluctuation disallows the ability to categorise the song to one specific genre. In fact, it can be argued that in its entirety, Rocket is an album in consistent oscillation. The fact that the Bluegrass and Americana influenced “Powerful Man” and “Bobby” are on the same record as tracks like “Brick” makes the mind boggle.
The reality is that Rocket is impossible to define because it discards any notion of definability. It is the album’s very indefinability, its unknowability which makes it so enthralling. This unknowability is also found in the lyrical content of certain songs.
For example, in “Bobby” we are forced to question whether the eponymous “Bobby” is a friend of Giannacoli’s or of another individual whom we will never know. This is a phenomena found throughout the entirety of the record. As the album progresses, it becomes increasingly difficult to work out if the songs are about Alex himself, or if they are simply stories given life through Alex’s voice.
Through all of this, Rocket manages to tap into the listener’s desire to know the unknowable. Alex G revels in the limitless possibility music holds within itself and in doing so has created what has to be the most generous record of the year so far. Purchase (Sandy) Alex G’s Rocket here.
Words by Sam Kemp