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(Sandy) Alex G
Rocket Sammy Maine , May 26th, 2017 12:34

Right in the middle of (Sandy) Alex G’s new album Rocket, the chorus of ‘Sportstar’ repeats the words “I play how I wanna play; I say what I wanna say.” It’s a sentiment that perfectly describes the 23-year-old Philadelphian’s astonishingly prolific output; spanning all the way back to 2010’s RACE and a myriad of self-released singles and EPs, Alex Giannascoli has always written with authenticity.

An artist who managed to turn Bandcamp popularity into a major label deal, Giannascoli has never steered from his narrative of the contemporary experience. But like the greats he is often compared to – Elliott Smith and Sparklehorse – there’s a darkened humour, a wink and a nudge beneath these vulnerable assertions that, rather than deterring from the subject at hand, makes them all the more human.

Upon introducing Rocket, Giannascoli shared a changed name, adding (Sandy) to his alias, as well as singles ‘Bobby’ and ‘Witch’ – two juxtaposing songs with one evoking pop-sensibilities and country-twangs while the other proved a dexterous excursion of mystical instrumentation, with a sombre pessimism at its heart. While they’re both markedly different from each other, they’re undeniably the work of Giannascoli – bold experiments in what it means to release an indie-rock song in 2017.

This exploration harnesses an album that demonstrates a diversity in textures and approach which, at times, proves dysfunctional and jarring but ultimately rewarding. As far as its intent goes, Giannascoli is meticulous in his narrative, spanning a wealth of different characters and environments that bring forth vivid imagery and poignant reflection. From the prisoner on ‘County’ to the little girl on ‘Alina’, Giannascoli crafts their stories with an acute awareness – first approaching them with a masterly sensitivity before broaching them with an uncomfortable truth. Perhaps the best example of this is the biting u-turn on ‘Proud’, as the lines “I wanna be a star like you/Wanna make something that’s true” suddenly becomes, “I wanna be a fake like you” – Giannascoli is unafraid of emotional confrontation, whether that be with himself, his character or the listener.

This kind of blunt lyricism runs throughout Rocket, with the more tentative stories attached to the subdued instrumentation of songs like ‘Judge’ – all mellow bass lines and quietened percussion – or ‘Powerful Man’, with its simple, repetitive guitar plucks and honeyed string accompaniment, that allows their vulnerability to take the spotlight. It isn’t all hushed and delicate though, with the unnerving escapades of tracks ‘Horse’ and ‘Brick’. The glitchy, almost-harrowing instrumentation of ‘Horse’ sounds like it came straight out of a video-game boss level, with the intense angst of ‘Brick’ providing a grating, punk thrust of spitting vocals and a distorted, throbbing turbulence of thwacks and bangs. The eerie, playground-like vocal delivery of “I know that you’re lying” makes for a particularly unsettling listen.

There’s also the almost humorous aspects of final track ‘Guilty’, with its organ swells, loose percussion, sax solos and jam-like arrangement that markedly deters from the accusatory tone of its lyrics. “Is the truth trapped, behind iron lock and key?” he asks. “Have you buried all the evidence of, what you used to be?” 

The sonic juxtaposition throughout Rocket proves Giannascoli to be a dynamically playful yet focused songwriter, who manages to encompass what it means to be human – be it beautiful or perplexing, frightening or exhilarating. It’s worth noting that while the peripatetic nature of Rocket is something that Giannascoli has been doing throughout his catalogue – most notably on 2015’s Beach Music – Rocket was the first album where he truly welcomed collaboration. Known for writing, playing and producing albums alone, Rocket sees touring band members Samuel Acchione and John Heywood contribute guitar and bass, both soloing on ‘County’; Samuel’s brother Colin playing bass; Emily Yacina adding harmonious vocal texture to ‘Bobby’ and ‘Alina’ and Molly Germer providing violin and vocals throughout. 

It’s perhaps this collaborative approach that allowed Giannascoli to explore so many different sonic styles, in ways that are unsteady and loose but relentless in their determination to create an album that depicts the complexities of our collective experience. Rather than offering the right answer, his unassuming nature allows Rocket to really sink under the skin, urging us to focus on the peripheries rather than the tunnel vision we’re so often fed. The raw and at times, ferocious navigation of the album soars in its earnest delivery and marks a career-defining release for (Sandy) Alex G

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