Album Review: A. G. Cook – ‘Apple’

Posted: by The Editor

Just months after releasing his debut album, the seven-disc, forty-nine song long opus 7G, PC Music impresario A. G. Cook has released what he has referred to as his “second debut album,” the more standard length Apple. If 7G was Cook giving you every minute detail of his process, Apple is him handpicking only those ripest specimens. 

Cook’s goal for Apple, and its lead single “Oh Yeah,” was to switch his focus from high concept pop to classic songwriting. His envisioned muse, the country-pop icon Shania Twain. The result, at least for “Oh Yeah,” is an unbelievably clean sounding pop song. It’s like if John Mayer and Bon Iver set out to write the best song of 2003. It’s deceptively catchy and reads as sweet. The track’s video looks as if Napoleon Dynamite had enrolled in an MFA program and been cut and pasted into the video for James Blunt’s “You’re Beautiful.” If a return to a time where pop music felt more homebrew was Cook’s ideal, he’s achieved it to an ominous degree.

While it is decidedly more left of center, the chorus of “Beautiful Superstar” also falls into Cook’s intended move towards classic pop songwriting. Its verses are coiled up in plucky acoustic guitar and neon synth, but its chorus has the sledgehammering force and melodrama of an 80s power ballad. The guitars switch to grinding electric riffs, and Cook forms a tempest in a teacup. Its hook is overpowering in its catchiness, which shouldn’t be a surprise with how many works of pop genius Cook has had a hand in building over the past few years. 

While Cook definitely takes a few stabs at classic pop songs, it’s important not to underplay that this is still an album from the founder of PC Music, and his signature symphonies of electronic chaos are still present. The frantic, artful “Xxoplex” features an array of sounds including pitched up vocal squeals, an operatic vocal pause, and thumping bass. “Airhead” makes use of grinding bass and scattered clinking sounds that are interesting, if a touch upsetting. At about the halfway point, the track introduces a light, modulated vocal and an array of synths that sound like a chase light that would go off had you won at a slot machine.

Only Cook could make that sound like something you’d want to hear, and good on him for trying to. Perhaps the record’s hidden gem, “Jumper” feels like the perfect encapsulation of what this album is. It plays lovingly with tropes and then flouts them. Cook pitches his voice down, sounding more masculine, and more like the radio rock musicians who exemplify the sound he’s prodding at. It’s still a light pop song, but it’s clearly built as an homage to bands like Third Eye Blind, whose own “Jumper” remains influential today.

It’s interesting that Cook has chosen 2020 to be the year he begins his public move from producer and hit-maker to an artist in his own right. Perhaps he sees something special in the strangeness of this year, as seeing what is special in what others might malign has always been something that sets him apart.

Disappointing / Average / Good / Great / Phenomenal

Eric Bennett | @seething_coast

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