Philadelphia based singer-songwriter (Sandy) Alex G returns with his best album to date. It’s an old idea repackaged: splice discordant ugliness with beautiful melodies and textures.
|Artist: (Sandy) Alex G
Album Title: Rocket
Genre: Indie Rock / Experimental Folk
Label: Domino Records
2017 is the year of Satanic Farmland Music in the underground indie rock and experimental folk scene. That’s a subgenre I made up in my head when I first heard the opening, jagged acoustic chords for “Poison Root” accompanied by a banjo which sounds like it hasn’t had its strings changed for the last century. How many times in the history of pop music has a verse had a D, Bm, G chord progression? How is it possible to do it again and make it fresh? It’s linear yet punctuated, smeared with distant dog barks, screechy but melodic strings, echoing, out of time piano hits, and Alex G’s low, soft, comedic mumble. Here we have the mission statement for Rocket, Alex G’s best album to date. It’s an old idea repackaged: splice discordant ugliness with beautiful melodies and textures.
An eclectic record with scope and breadth can be a dangerous thing. Not so here as most of what’s flung at the wall sticks faithfully. First time around the whole package can be pretty beguiling as you’re lead through the empty prison corridors of “County”, the damp killing fields of “Witch” and the nightmarish gallop of “Horse”. At a quick glance it looks like Alex G is flitting around aimlessly from one soundscape to another, but actually it’s pretty easy to compartmentalise this album.
The first four tracks are mostly acoustic ballads including the affecting duet, “Bobby”. Things get weird quickly after that. “Witch” is haunting and dreamy, my favourite on the album. “Horse” is a tough ask in some ways but pleasantly experimental in its approach to rhythm. “Brick” is the biggest banger here and the go-to track to rock out to and “Sportstar” is the chilliest song with (ostentatious) auto-tune that I’ve heard. The subsequent tracks are the first time Alex harks back to the style and feel of his back catalogue, while still returning to that satanic farm sound (“Rocket”) before ending up bizarrely in a Jazz club stupor on closer “Guilty”.
The guy has chosen his album cover well. One look at that demented goat stood alone in the nicely rendered field beneath the album title (coloured in candy-stripe red and white) tells you a lot of what you need to know. What’s presented here is the capability to look silly and not be embarrassed, but also the capacity for a strange and eerie beauty. You have to dig deeper to find the message behind the whole picture.
What comes out in Alex G’s storytelling is empathy and forgiveness intertwined with ruminations on morality, judgement and guilt. It’s a catalogue of lovers, friends and family all following their own paths and fucking up and getting caught out, with Alex trying to pull whoever he can from the quagmire. The sweetest song on the album is “Powerful Man”, where he sings in plain English, “Maybe he was out of line / But he was still a pretty close friend of mine / Maybe he had hurt me bad / But a brother is a brother and that is that”. I admire the defiance at the end of “Sportstar” as well; “I play how I wanna play / I say what I wanna say”. Never be accountable to anyone.
A lot of credit has to be given to Alex G for diligently uploading album after album onto Bandcamp until eventually being picked up by Domino Records, purely off the back of his skills as a songwriter and performer with that lo-fi USP. Elliott Smith comparisons don’t go beyond his vocal cadence and strumming technique, allowing Alex to stand on his own two feet as a proponent of a genre that’s popularity remains steadfast. I’m happy artists like this are still out there. These years are all intimate venues, drinking with fans after shows, cracking jokes, making mistakes, having fun, and devoting your life to the music and nothing but the music. It’s easy enough to be envious.