For lo-fi bedroom multi-instrumentalist Alexander Giannascoli, the last twelve months have been busy; not only a sudden name change (from Alex G to (Sandy) Alex G), but collaborations with Frank Ocean on 2016’s Blonde and the visual album Endless. But his latest project is a far cry from any of the ambient guitar work you might on his recent features. Rather, Rocket is a foray into bluesy rock and lo-fi country pop, lingering on a few of his most experimental detours along the way. It might not be his typical indie rock direction, but Rocket is an endlessly interesting direction for Alex G.
Opening track Poison Root is a beautiful, sort of dysfunctional start to the album – it leans on psychedelic folk, jangly guitars, and haunting strings, and like many of the tracks on this album, Alex G’s lowkey vocals are subdued beneath the wall of sound. It’s a lush, infatuating opener, but it’s unsettling too, drawing from the same spooky folk vein as the Microphones or Neutral Milk Hotel. Rocket is an album strewn between both psuedo-freak folk and more conventional country ballads, but luckily Alex G’s versatility allows him to balance the two.
At it’s most accessible, Rocket is the best starting place for someone wanting to get into his music, with tracks like Proud or Guilty playing out like funky country ditties, nice contrasts to the more out there ideas that Alex G goes for on this album. Bobby is an unforgettable country ballad, and while perhaps cliched, effortlessly evokes images of grungy farmhouses and wintery cornfields through its lo-fi folksy blues. There’s rarely a moment here free from a sense of bittersweet melancholia; noisy country instrumentation on tracks like Powerful Man or Big Fish only heightens this sense of rural uncertainty.
There’s more typical indie rock on here too, like the downtempo Judge, but for most of it’s length, Rocket is driven forward by jangle pop and alt-country infused songs. It’s singer-songwriter turned on it’s head – wispy pieces like Alina or Witch feel like distant fever dreams, but even instrumental moments lacking Alex G’s subdued musings on life and love are just as entrancing. There’s the title track Rocket, a bright, pastoral interlude, but also the frightening Horse, with two minutes of clinking and clanking constructing a moody psych-folk sense of distress. It’s deeply unsettling, but somehow spellbinding.
Some of Rocket’s best moments are right at the center of its forty minute tracklist. Brick immediately stands out from the crowd; harsh, abrasive, almost a dip into hell before entering the second half of the album. It feels like the do-it-yourself garage punk ethos infused into intelligent dance – it’s equal parts Death Grips as it is Aphex Twin’s Come to Daddy. Despite its experimental nature, Brick finds itself a comfortable niche within the album, concealed within a sea of softer songs. Followup track Sportstar is less noise and more dreamy, riding along a soft piano line – but it’s Alex G’s warped vocals and distorted guitars that really drive this track forward. It’s a cosy piece of lo-fi folktronica, as chilling as it is catchy.
For the newly christened (Sandy) Alex G, the first album under the new name is a wonderful start. Wearing its roots in psychedelic folk, alt-country, and the lo-fi scene on its sleeve, Rocket breaks down and subverts indie rock cliches on an album that is both all over the place and beautifully focused at the same time.