ROCKET by (Sandy) Alex G
Genre: Indie Folk
Favorite Tracks: “Poison Root,” “County,” “Bobby,” “Sportstar,” “Powerful Man”
Most all of us are familiar with the artist’s dilemma by now. It fuels the ever-contentious pleb/patrician dichotomy and sell-out hate that plagues music fandom the world over. You either sacrifice your artistic integrity and personal flair for mass appeal or risk alienating audiences, and thus success, by sticking to your oddly-shaped guns. Many attempt to circumvent this by incorporating a myriad of styles, hoping to hit that sweet spot of both paying tribute to unique influences and striking a chord with listeners of various dispositions. More often than not we end up with flurries of shots in the dark. But once in a blue moon a release will pick up on what makes a plethora of differing genres fun and accessible. ROCKET does that and more in what could possibly be the best album of 2017 so far.
We find Pennsylvania’s Alexander Giannascoli, colloquially “Alex G,” or now simply “Sandy,” at an interesting spot within the indie scene. After touring with acts such as Elvis Depressedly and Cymbals Eat Guitars, it’s quite easy to mistakenly paint Alex G with the same brush. Though his brand of twangy indie folk may at first be heard as reserved and humdrum when not showcasing his primo guitar skills, it has reverberated loudly within fans thanks to his daring inclusion of everything from psycho pop balladry to noise. No stranger to experimentation with his widely praised previous releases, DSU and BEACH MUSIC being the most recent and widely recognized, the multi-instrumentalist was recruited by none other than R&B popstar Frank Ocean to provide guitarwork for ENDLESS as well as BLONDE. Having attained a referrals list like no other, Giannascoli went on to complete ROCKET with a large host of collaborating talent and hype to spare.
It may thickly front-load the alt-country and folk vibes early on the first few tracks, but ROCKET also briefly morphs into a profound Kodak carousel of the modern American music landscape. “Poison Root,” reminiscent of early Neutral Milk or even AnCo, invites with gentle guitars and soft hints of the banjo and violin mastery found throughout. The cheery folk ballad “Proud” transitions to nightfall via a dreary jazz lullaby with cooler than cool guitar solos in “County.” Then we have “Bobby,” a somber promise between lovers acknowledging the very one they cuckold, functioning as a sadder foil to “Proud,” but with Molly Germer’s feels-y funeral fiddle holding prominence. After those homely yet unconventionally beautiful scenes, things get a bit out there.
Mixed in with some freaky meditation sessions are forays into industrial and a channeling of Frank Ocean himself. Yet, in a stroke of genius, most tracks stay tethered to a solemn piano, if not Alex G’s signature laid back style, possessing salient Elliott Smith and Wilco influences. An exception is “Brick,” with its back-breaking, Crystal Castles-esque industrial beat and screeching both from Alex G and noisy guitars. Another standout is “Sportstar,” an electro-pop summer daze, weirdly enough, topped with a robotic, Auto-tuned Giannascoli similar to Ocean’s “Nikes.” “Judge” acts as a come down, returning Alex into darker places, and “Powerful Man” gives us a glimpse into the hopes of a caustic youth surrounded by a troubled family in the form of a campfire-worthy folk ballad. Giannascoli’s presence throughout the record remains a subdued strength. We follow his heartbreaking assurance so closely that once the finale “Guilty” closes with its clever inclusion of sax, we crave for more of his verisimilitudinous, mellow melancholy.
As complex and emotional as ROCKET is, it is without a doubt a fun experience. Where it lacks in cohesion, the album more than makes up for in sheer listenability. No musician in recent memory has attempted to touch upon so many facets of American music culture and achieved such rapturous heights as these.