Review: (Sandy) Alex G — Rocket

Posted: by The Editor

Alex G Rocket

Alex G is one of those mystifying figures we get to call “prolific.” We get to do this because in the past half-decade, he’s issued a hefty catalog of essential music that feels like being in on a secret. A few years ago, stumbling onto his Bandcamp page felt like finding buried treasure. It’s not immediately clear what makes G’s music so captivating. Over the course of several albums, he’s showcased his singular ability to pack peculiar ideas and sounds into lucid indie rock songs. He toys with perspective and tone throughout his catalog, embodying characters from different walks to explore personal musings. While lo-fi aesthetics give off an air of effortlessness, G seems to be a deliberate artist; he’s like the world’s chillest method actor. He builds entire worlds just to walk around in for a second.

In 2015, G’s prolificacy paid off. He signed to Domino Records and released Beach Music — an album full of oddball earworms and live staples, but a bit inconsistent for crossover potential. In a strange turn of events, G released no music in 2016 and has his biggest year yet. Many, including myself, were surprised to see him listed as a contributor on Frank Ocean’s visual album Endless and album proper Blond. These features were less remarkable for their prominence than for the far reach of G’s influence. After Blond, Frank published a webpage of his favorite songs — a list that included G’s quirky piano ballad “Mis.” So if it was ever a secret, its out now.

Rocket is the Philly songwriter’s first LP officially under the (Sandy) Alex G moniker and his second for Domino. Prior to its release, we received five distinctly different tastes of the new record. Orchestral duet and lead single “Bobby” (paired with a particularly rootsy album cover) had people labeling this “Alex G’s country album,” but songs like “Brick” and “Sportstar” seemed at odds with that assertion. What we get with Rocket is a thoroughly diverse collection of songs with a slight lean toward rustic themes and sensibilities. At their core, the songs here don’t fall outside of G’s wheelhouse. He just trades distorted guitars for banjos, fiddles, barnyard sounds, etc. on a majority of the album’s fourteen tracks.

Aside from the album’s earthy color palette, Rocket is held together by narratives of responsibility, honor, and justice through the lens of several undefined perspectives. Like much of his past work, G seems to embody characters to seek personal truth and explore themes. Sometimes its a bit unclear what perspective he’s coming from or what he’s tying to achieve, but this doesn’t detract from Rocket’s potency. On the pastoral “Powerful Man,” G examines the values of a man determined to protect the things he loves. He finds confidence in his creed, eventually coming to the conclusion that he’d be a good father. These heartland principles reappear and play out as a moral north star for different characters throughout the record. On “Proud,” the protagonist again places his pride in family, pledging to keep them fed and cared for. Even the auto-tuned dancehall of “Sportstar” portrays a classic romance that feels right at home under the bleachers at a high school football game in the boonies. On Rocket, perhaps moreso than any other project in his catalog, G’s protagonists seem to be seeking a lot of the same answers. This devotion to identity and tone helps these thoughts exist in the same creative breath.

While not much is clear about Rocket, there is a lot to learn and a lot to love with this thing (there may be a fair amount of learning to love involved, too). These songs are probably not a representation of G’s vantage point, but rather a multi-faceted portrayal of inspired rumination. It’s one of many worlds Alex G has built, but this one is his biggest so far, and the easiest to get lost in.

Score: 8.5/10

FFO: Elliot Smith, Pinegrove, Sparklehorse

Riley Savage | @RileyJohnSavage