(Sandy) Alex G's eighth album soars high as another crazy grab bag of interesting songs.Domino, 2017
8.5 / 10
You’d figure we’d start talking about Alex Giannascoli‘s eighth album, Rocket, by talking about his previous Beach Music. That album was his first for Domino and gave Giannascoli a larger spotlight than before. Though, to be honest, he was doing quite fine on Bandcamp with no label. Beach Music made our Best Albums of 2015, but no, we’re not going to talk about that album. Instead, we’re going to talk about what Giannascoli, now (Sandy) Alex G, did just before Rocket. He worked with Frank Ocean on last year’s Endless and Blonde. Amazing, right?
It makes sense then that Rocket has a song, “Sportstar”, that’s reminiscent of Ocean’s Blonde. While it may initially feel tongue-in-cheek; possibly using autotune to mimic hip hop songs appearing on soundtracks to popular sports video games, it could also be Alex celebrating this moment of working with Frank Ocean. It has to be such a mind-blowing experience to go from this celebrated Bandcamp artist to a musician on one of last year’s most listened to albums. Though, to hear Alex explain it, “It was pretty simple.”
The Blonde throwback, “Sportstar”, is the only one of its kind on Rocket. If there’s a prominent genre overall for Rocket, it’s a mix of Americana, folk, and country. But Rocket, much like Beach Music, is a musical grab bag. And it’s definitely one that you’ll be happy with all of the contents inside. Aiding the album in its Americana-heavy sound is the addition of Alex’s girlfriend Molly Germer, who plays violin on several of the songs. Her work throughout Rocket is solid, but she particularly excels on “Bobby”. The song boasts a very Conor Oberst/Bright Eyes potpourri with “Four Winds” style violin and a duet with Emily Yacina. “Bobby” could be his most powerful song to date.
While “Bobby” soars as Rocket‘s best song, the album isn’t without its other standouts. Some which stand out simply because they’re strange and surprising. One such song is “Brick”, but an alternate title could be “(Sandy) Alex G Does Death Grips”. Seriously. It’s a monster of industrial beats and hip-hop meets punk. On back-to-back songs, “Witch” and “Horse”, Giannascoli delivers a disorienting experience without a lot of technical firepower. There is no psych-rock posturing, just simple effects to throw off your balance. For “Witch”, it helps explain Giannascoli’s mindset while dealing with a betrayal. “Horse” just feels like an excuse to throw listeners off-kilter with clangy percussion, hyper piano keys, and growling drone.
Giannascoli doesn’t lose steam in the album’s later songs either. He gets almost on a Mark Kozelek stream of consciousness for “Powerful Man”. Giannascoli runs through such thoughts as a friend going to prison. His mom getting bit by a baby. And then he fantasizes about being a soldier or at least an authoritative figure. It’s a wild ride, but it doesn’t end without another surprise. Rocket closes with a weird jazz excursion that struts along with a pep in its step. Just like that he leaves us wanting more. And knowing (Sandy) Alex G, he won’t leave us waiting very along. As long as he doesn’t help another superstar like Frank Ocean out.