Philadelphia’s (Sandy) Alex G has been eulogized by listeners since he began self-releasing his music onto Bandcamp in 2013. His music has yet to hit mainstream radio airwaves still, his name always seems to jump out at critics, fans, and fellow artists. He quickly gained attention when he was featured as a contributor on Frank Ocean’s 2016 albums Endless and Blonde. Ocean had the tracks laid out but looked to (Sandy) Alex G, real name Alex Giannascoli, to put his own guitar stylings over them. People took notice of his signature techniques and were spellbindingly hooked. Now, in his eighth full-length album Rocket (released 5/19/2017 via Domino Records), he manifests a diverse range genres and embraces a new openness of collaboration.
Rocket opens with the countryfied track “Poison Root,” a hodgepodge of musical instruments including an acoustic guitar, banjo, a piano and a violin played by his girlfriend Molly Germer. As Giannascoli strums his guitar in a consistent manor, the rest of the ensemble sporadically chimes in while dogs bark in the background, almost drowning out his voice. He continuously repeats “Now I know everything” as if he was saying it to convince himself. All of the instruments thunderously clash together in the song’s final moments, the piano banging at a frighteningly low note before it abruptly ends.
This country sound continues with a lighter tone into the next track, “Proud.” Through its lyrics, Giannascoli suddenly turns into an unconfident being.
Wish I could be strong like you
Wish I had something to prove
Wanna be a star like you
Wanna make something that’s true
Listen: “Proud” – (Sandy) Alex G
He doesn’t see himself as someone who is worth something and can only revel in the shadow of a figure he looks up to. Throughout Rocket, Giannascoli steps into different characters who each have emotionally different stories to tell. What’s intriguing is that he’s never forthcoming about which story directly relates to him, forcing the listener to question what’s true, what’s fiction, and to maybe see each of the characters in themselves. Giannascoli shakes off the country twang in his next song “County” as an electric keyboard follows his voice and an electric guitar jumps into a solo groove over lightly beating, jazz influenced drums. He immediately paints the picture of his new character sitting in a jail cell for reasons unknown. The inmate is believed to be having an inner monologue until he addresses the songwriter:
See I got some stories
Hey why don’t you write that
Into a song maybe
Your fans will dig that
On the next track, “Bobby,” Molly Gerner returns with country-inspired violin melodies as Emily Yacina sings alongside Giannascoli. His character now finds themselves wrapped so fiercely in love that he shares his willingness to cut ties with his friends and change who he is in order to be with the one he loves.
Watch: “Bobby” – (Sandy) Alex G
On “Witch” the tone becomes dark, his character feels cursed and, as he becomes superstitious, his everyday actions are affected. Giannascoli adds a hazy, echoing effect to his voice and Yacina returns with high pitched background vocals. “Horse” spirals deeper into darkness and is the first instrumental song on the album. Its jangly, unstructured mess of pianos, synths, and human moans are haunting. The mid-album track, “Brick,” is a grunge-industrial-hardcore heap of fuzzy guitars and synths that mesh together as Giannascoli bellows with angst.
On the next track, “Sportstar,” there’s a tumultuous weight that’s been lifted and there’s now room to breathe again. The song is laced with Frank Ocean influences; Giannascoli’s voice is auto-tuned an octave higher, feathery piano keys gently glide up and down, a distorted guitar breaks its way through, and a drumbeat dips in and out. Even lyrically the track is an ode to Ocean’s “Nikes.”
Let me play on your team
Let me tie your Nikes
Holding on for sport star
The song seems to be from two different perspectives: The obsessed fan whose willing to do anything for his sports idol and the athlete himself who goes through life doing what he wants and thrives on people feeling threatened by him. “Judge” brings Giannascoli’s lo-fi guitar to the forefront and finds a man who blames himself for an end of a relationship. The song puts a modern twist on grunge with a heavy bass line and a mysterious flavor of synth. The title track “Rocket” is an angelic instrumental song with an already nostalgic banjo and violin returning and playing behind an ascending piano, a dog once again heard playing in the background.
The Americana track, “Powerful Man,” welcomes back a heavy string section with a tender acoustic guitar. The character finds himself a young boy in a family consisting of a lawbreaking older brother, a baby, and a possible single mother. He looks to the future of when he’s old enough for someone to be dependent on him and when he’s become a powerful man. One of the most steadily-tempoed songs, “Alina,” finds the character repetitively singing this name, someone whose a clear obsession of theirs. The instrumentation is a daze of drifty percussions, piano keys, and an acoustic guitar. A returning theme of adolescence is brought back in “Big Fish” as the character is enamored with a father figure as they try to figure out who they will grow up to be all the while looking forward to becoming an older, independent person.
The closing track “Guilty” brings a jazzy outro to the wonderfully eclectic album. A smooth electric guitar plays over jaunty electric keys, swift percussions, and a backing choir. A bell rings while a spirited saxophone plays until the end. The tonality contrasts with the lyrics, the character feels insecure, questions himself, and doubts whether or not he deserves to be happy.
Rocket looks inside the lives and emotions of characters who have yet to feel like they’ve reached adulthood but it’s also (Sandy) Alex G’s most mature album to date. He’s a shapeshifting musician whose lyrics are enigmatic and his youth only reveals that his talents have yet to peak.
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cover © Domino Records