For the majority of his career, Alex G released music independently on platforms such as Bandcamp, but quickly gained mobility through the years . In 2015, he signed with Domino Records and released Beach Music – a somewhat chaotic album consisting of dark melodies. On Rocket, Alex G broadens his sonic range in new, unexpected ways with a diverse instrumental repertoire.
Philadelphia-based Alex G – but now (Sandy) Alex G – has been gaining a lot of traction through the years as a bedroom indie rock/folk songwriter. He is often compared to the late, great Elliott Smith in terms of songwriting, but mostly because he double-tracks vocals in the majority of his songs. The main thing that makes Alex G stick out in the indie rock scene is his impressive capability to write ominous, richly-textured melodies. He is a skilled master of high-quality, lo-fi bedroom rock.
As a whole, the album is abundant with tone/mood shifts. The opening track “Poison Root” features one of his trademark looming guitar riffs and stacks additional layers of banjos, barking dogs, pianos, and hand claps. At this point, he is already treading new territory. The album continues to explore a new frontier of sounds through the tracks “Proud” and “Bobby”. The lighter, pleasant melodies presented on these tracks help expand the album sonically. On “Proud”, he sings more positively: “I’m so proud of you and everything you do…” Then on “Bobby”, the mood becomes a bit more neutral, yet hopeful of how he can clean himself up for another. There were a lot of equally great moments of self-reflection throughout the album.
Just at the point when things feel relatively positive, Alex G flips the switch to expose darker, more distressing tracks. One of the major mood shifts from “Bobby” to “Witch” twists reality into a dark space, where he sings: “No matter what you do, the witch burns you.” The next two tracks add layers and layers of anguish. The first instrumental “Horse” is full of harsh pangs, cluttered noise, and painful groans. It sounds like a troubling journey through shadows while being chased by some monstrosity. The distress compounds on “Brick”, where Alex painfully shouts the line “put a brick in the wall between me and you” over headache-inducing basses and distorted guitars. This section paints a hauntingly interesting scene, but these tracks are not particularly easy to listen to out of context of the album.
The stress settles immediately, though, on the track “Sportstar”. It starts with a mellow piano, but is later coupled with auto-tuned vocals. To me, this is a weak point, mostly because auto-tuning is an auditory hurdle for me. But I think it helps set the tone of fantasy and idolatry to illustrate some kind of dream sequence. The rest of the album has some shining moments especially on “Rocket” and “Powerful Man” that project a calming presence. On the last track, “Guilty”, Alex G does a fantastic job of concluding the album, but not with with declarative lyrics. He and four other singers ask questions all while a saxophone and keyboard smooth out the ending. They sing: “Is the truth trapped behind lock and key” and “has the question become darker than the answer?”
Rocket was one of my most highly anticipated albums of this year. Alex G delivers on this album in terms of more expansive and palatable instrumentation and arrangement. The album features usage of the banjo, violin, slide, saxophone, and quite a few great vocal features. He tinkers with dark and bright sounds to complement interplay between reality and fantasy. While I think the audio accurately reflect lyrical content, I think there a couple missing pieces that could help paint a bigger, thematic picture. Give him credit, though, for opening up and letting the world get a blurry glimpse into his mind.