Alex Giannascoli is no stranger to finding himself far away from his comfort zone. Just last year, the Philadelphia native was summoned by Frank Ocean to play guitar on ‘Blonde’, and though the invitation came as a surprise to most, the dynamism of his 2015 Domino debut ‘Beach Music’ somehow makes the unorthodox collaboration feel quite sensible in retrospect.
On ‘Rocket’, the newly dubbed (Sandy) Alex G ventures as deep as he ever has into the unknown, confidently emerging with a collection of effortlessly experimental tracks that leapfrog from obtuse blues and bleak shoegaze to dusty folk rock.
This growth is apparent straight away on the stormy, hovering mass of album opener ‘Poison Root’, with its interlocking banjo riffs and acoustic strums combining to devastating effect, while the jangly wobble of ‘Proud’ hits like a modern day 'Range Life', leaving Giannascoli crooning: “I’m so proud of you, and everything that you do / doesn’t matter what they say, they ain’t worth a dollar in change”.
Before the slow-building melody of ‘Bobby’ strikes a nerve and steals the show with its comfortingly familiar fiddle hook, the guitar walk-ups and doughy keyboard lines on instrumental number ‘County’ inject a potent kick, with the pair providing the final tender moments before ‘Rocket’ descends into a tempest of disarray.
‘Witch’ arrives like an ice water dousing, bouncing off the walls with scatterbrained piano meanderings, tinkered Animal Collective vocals, and squealing strings. The subsequent clanging on ‘Horse’ rolls to a halt with a series of exasperated moans, doing well to set the stage for the entirely alien aura of ‘Brick’, a shocking specimen that trudges through a field of densely-packed electro sludge.
Eventually, light peers through again beginning with the ethereal keys and auto-tuned delivery on ‘Sportstar’, and the twirling trance of the title track offers pause before the acoustic balladry of ‘Powerful Man’, where Giannascoli doles out some of his most profound and plain-spoken anecdotes.
“Mom’s in a mood this week / cause she thinks her family is going crazy / guess it started with the baby / she went in for a hug then it bit her on the cheek”.
It’s quietly compelling stuff, and a rich example of Giannascoli’s greatly improved songwriting; more so than on past efforts, his vocals take up a starring part on ‘Rocket’, graceful and subdued at times and equally deranged at others, and it’s this same considered approach that sees him wrangling with his rising star on ‘Big Fish’ with a mocking quip: “Don’t ask me questions pa, you know I’m a big old fish now”.
It may be tongue-in-cheek, but the self-made Bandcamp veteran has indeed grown to be somewhat of a big fish in the small pond of indie rock, and ‘Rocket’ is beyond doubt the new crown jewel of his already sizable catalogue. Maybe that’s why closing cut ‘Guilty’ feels oddly celebratory with its cymbal flourishes and full stops, like Giannascoli himself knows full well the magnitude of his achievement here, on what is his most well-rounded, diverse, and unrelenting body of work to date.
Words: Noveen Bajpai
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