Release Date: May 19, 2017
Record label: Domino
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
Until now, Alex Giannascoli was perceived as a sparse songwriter whose dark melodic arrangements allude to the fragile genius of short-lived songwriters like Nick Drake and Elliott Smith. And there's some truth to that in how Giannascoli's prolific output, all via his personal Bandcamp, depicts feelings of isolation and personal confinement. With the acoustic guitar as his primary songwriting tool, he's addressed some alarmingly tormenting thoughts, of the kind that could be fairly commonplace from a psychological outlook but are better left unsaid.
While it took '90s lo-fi heroes like Lou Barlow and Elliott Smith years to gain a following with their self-released four-track recordings, Alexander Giannascoli -- formerly known as Alex G and now going by (Sandy) Alex G -- quickly became a big deal among underground indie circles with the help of music streaming site Bandcamp. But it's also this deft method of distributing his music that's allowed (Sandy) Alex G to freely experiment with so many varied sounds and genres without wasting precious studio time or vinyl pressing costs. Perhaps that's why Rocket, G's purported foray into "country" music, comes across so damn confident and well conceived.
Before there was Car Seat Headrest, the hyper-productive bedroom-recording hero of Bandcamp was a guy named Alex G, aka Alex Giannascoli, aka Sandy. As of April, he's now officially known as (Sandy) Alex G. Giannascoli, from Philadelphia, spent the early '10s cranking out fuzzy, guitar-driven folk-pop whose lo-fi nature couldn't contain its creator's natural knack for a memorable melody.
In a sense, singer/songwriter Alex Giannascoli is the modern ideal for an indie rock throwback. The frequent comparisons with Elliott Smith or Sparklehorse are legitimate, but mostly regarding his recording process: Every production decision--whether double-tracking vocals or close-mic'ing the guitars--creates the assumption of intimacy, recalling an earlier time when instrumental or monetary limitations necessitated ingenuity. But he records on a laptop rather than a 4-track, and he was an early example of a songwriter leveraging a strong Bandcamp presence into a deal with a high-profile imprint, in his case, Domino.
Sometimes, even lo-fi, home-based indie-rockers need to open the doors. Philadelphia's Alex Giannascoli proved as much in 2016, when he followed several home-made Bandcamp releases and Domino debut Beach Music with headline grabbing work on Frank Ocean's Blonde. If that collaboration has inspired an open-range sensibility and new-found polish in his output, the other welcome pay-off is an increased confidence in his wonky story-song abilities.
It is fitting that Alex G (Alex Giannascoli) has now started utilizing his occasional stage name of Sandy for this release. Not only does Giannascoli inhabit various versions of himself, but Rocket is an album of many personalities. They're in the lyrics, as sections of autobiography combined with various tales and character studies, but it's also in Giannascoli's music.
Philadelphia-bred Alex Giannascoli (aka (Sandy) Alex G) has been slyly releasing albums from his bedroom on Bandcamp since the ripe old age of 17. Six albums and seven years later, he's a sophomore in the Domino Records catalog, and we might expect things to change. But his bedroom's music has just gained a wider window, and the window is lifted and the measures are making their way to the ears of the neighborhood.
It’s been two years since (Sandy) Alex G released a full-length record, his 2015 Domino debut ‘Beach Music’, a lifetime for the uber-prolific 24 year-old. The time spent away (apart from that in which he contributed guitar parts to Frank Ocean’s ‘Blonde’) sees Alex Giannascoli refining his now-signature sound, while also exuding the confidence of a singer that’s becoming so critically acclaimed. Indeed, the refrain of opener ‘Poison Root’ repeats “now I know everything”.
A mid the many major names on Frank Ocean's Blonde - the Beatles, Jonny Greenwood, Beyoncé - one credit stuck out as conspicuously low-key: Philadelphian 24-year-old Alex G, now with his (Sandy) prefix, was a natural fit for the album's introverted, explorative textures. His eighth record is as dysfunctional as the R&B star's album, establishing him as a truly dexterous songwriter: there are echoes of Lilys, Battles, Death Grips, grunge and soft rock. The sinister clattering of Horse and Sportstar recalls Animal Collective, Bobby channels Avi Buffalo and the wizened country of Proud positions him as a kind of Cass McCombs protege.
His eighth full-length overall, Rocket arrives after a period of increased exposure for bedroom recordist and longtime self-releaser Alex Giannascoli. Then going by Alex G, he made his label debut (DSU) in 2014, then signed with Domino Records, which released Beach Music, an album that landed on Billboard's Heatseekers chart and made some high-profile best-of-2015 lists. R&B superstar Frank Ocean then invited Giannascoli to play on his 2016 LPs Endless and Blond.
If you haven't yet heard of Alex Giannascoli - now known as (Sandy) Alex G - you should. Deemed as a musical genius by Toro Y Moi 's Chaz Bundick, and having collaborated on Blonde (2016) with the almighty Frank Ocean , this Philadelphia-grown multi-instrumentalist started out as a bedroom singer-songwriter, filled with millennial anxieties akin to Homeshake and Girlpool . His releases have a seething sense of anxiety and insecurity, in a way that makes us feel strangely comforted.
There aren't cults in indie rock anymore. There are the hives, the larger than life fandoms that follow around big-name pop stars like Beyoncé or the One Direction boys, but the days of that intense adoration gravitating around indie musicians like Jeff Mangum or Calvin Johnson have long since passed. It’s partly due to how the proliferation of the Internet and streaming services affected the underground's relationship with the mainstream, making cult music easier to find and share; as a result, the deep, obsessive followings around smaller artists don't exist like they used to.
In music, as in every other creative art, the line between biographical and autobiographical is often blurred. Rarely, does the listener know for sure whether the song is an accurate depiction of personal experience or an account of another’s fortunes and woes. Similarly, It's very easy for an artist to obscure the meaning of a song, to layer it with ambiguity to allow multiple interpretations.
From the first strum of his guitar in 'Poison Root', Rocket is a quintessentially Alex Giannascoli experience - the understated yet incredibly rewarding songwriting, the haphazard instrumentation, the tracks that make you double check you're not actually listening to an unreleased Elliott Smith ballad: they're all as present as ever. It's a messy, sprawling, unpredictable album that launches you down many a rabbit hole of experimentation before slamming the brakes and taking off in an entirely different direction. It also, however, feels like a new Alex G experience, in a multitude of ways.
B efore his parenthesised semi-rebrand, the prolific artist formerly known as Alex G had released seven albums of Pavement-influenced lo-fi bedroom indie that, although patchy, had plenty of instances of songwriting gold. Rocket, however, is a disappointment. While there's an easy-going charm to Proud and Guilty, and galloping instrumental Horse is pleasingly unhinged, for the most part these songs are frustratingly gossamer-light, drifting out of the consciousness almost as soon as they end.
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.
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.