Evolving so much from his early Bandcamp days the newly named (Sandy) Alex G or Alex Giannascoli has a record every bit as experimental as it is refined, although not always at the same time. For this eighth release, Giannascoli merges folk and art-rock for something clever yet fun while running into a bit of indecision along the way.
Opening on a flourish of banjo and guitar, “Poison Root” wastes no time on moody intros with its mumbly starting note. Its chaotic yet beautifully bounce mixed with the discordant harmonies is a brutal trudge mostly harped by an occasionally annoyingly unintelligible vocal from Giannascoli. Popping right into a more bouncy and upbeat skip on “Proud” Giannascoli keeps his twist on familiar song writing going with his weird production and dense instrumentation.
“County” however is the first track on the record to truly offer something substantially unique on its off-kilter tempo and tones. The funky groove breaks and switches to a bass-driven tumble to close the track out. Taking in folksy fiddles, “Bobby” tells a sad, personal tale, melding in a heartbreaking tale to something overtly more wholesome.
On an absolutely mystifying mix of strings and keys “Witch” dazzles the mind with its brooding mood and weirdly recorded melodies. Sounding like a completely different beast from the opening tracks, it carries a dark glam rock mood that really soars with its eerie piano and vocals. “Horse” burns through on a frantic and bass-heavy opening full of breaking percussion that feels like it could collapse at any moment. While a cool instrumental break, it does prove to be a little to discordant and intense to be enjoyed consistently.
With heavy metal fury, “Brick” proves to be the art-rock answer to Queens Of The Stone Age and Nine Inch Nails we never thought was possible. Mixing in heavy distorted vocals and a roaming bass purr, the track is an experimental trip pulled right out of the 90s. Bringing in auto-tune and dreamy pianos, “Sportstar” shines in its sad beauty but working in its quirky genre-bending while also being notably abrasive.
“Judge” moves to a grungy tick, taking in chorus and deep bass, mixed in with a piano take that haunts with a synth so peculiar that the blend of the two is just creepy. Making an instrumental break much more powerful and embracing than before, “Rocket” clangs with poppy fiddle and string notes that give unique take on a handful of folk clichés for an effective moment in the record.
Leaning to more indie roots, “Powerful Man” merges the country tones of the record in with some modern honesty and themes for something that sounds like a folk-standard as written by the 2017 generation. The brilliant violin scratching and piano humming bridges calling to many a Broken Social Scene song (especially “Anthems For A Seventeen Year Old Girl”) provide a bright and distorted outro to the already strong track. “Alina” continues this mood on a more piano-driven note, with the rising vocal harmonies and hefty drums carrying the track somewhere ethereal, along with a demented side melody.
The steady but dreary drone of “Big Fish” is an effective emotional cut for late in the record that hits pretty hard despite its repetitiveness thanks to some throttling sound notes. The sarcastic pop of “Guilty” ends the album on a fun, playing for the joy of it note, with so much flourish, sense of euphoria in the vocals and experimentation that it’s almost a shame the rest of the album couldn’t be so fearless.
While virtually overloaded with talent and ideas, the major failing of Rocket is its lack of control or focused creativity. For every interesting moment there’s a derivative song structure and quirky progression with bland instrumentation. While the second half of the album lands a stride that it keeps strong, the unbalanced open half, and genre-bouncing middle make for a record that while incredibly inspiring, just feels a little too scatterbrained before it settles down.
Words by Owen Maxwell