(Sandy) Alex G: Rocket

Introduction

Following his recent name change that sought to end the often confused female songwriter known by the same pseudonym, (Sandy) Alex G reemerges to offer one of his most polished records to date, a feature that does not necessarily work for the better.

Let’s be clear, Rocket is most definitely a solid work from cover to back, offering a range of different ideas and sounds that piggyback off each other in ways that are both cryptic and clear depending on the track.  Singles like “Proud” and “Bobby” resonate contemporary Americana through its use of trotting meter and singing fiddles.

On the flip side, songs such as “Brick” bring out industrial properties and harsh noise that emulates the tone of more seasoned hardcore veterans such as Death Grips or even Nine Inch Nails.  Even still, the impressive dynamic of this record cannot win me over all the time.

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The Drawbacks…

“Horse” is an example of a piece that comes across as too messy despite its intentional appeal to being a ‘focus track’.  I enjoyed it upon the first few listens but after becoming more familiar with the track it develops a slight annoyance factor that I can’t tune out.

While I favor some of the later tracks over the front half of the album, there is the issue of ordering and arrangement that also keeps me from being overly attached to this record.  Tracks like “Big Fish” would support the narrative much better to be placed as the very last track.  “Witch”, “Horse” and “Brick” could also be mixed into different intervals to avoid the dissonant void in the middle half of the album.

Lyrics

Focusing on lyrics, Alex G is soaring in this category.  With most songs continuing the two or three verse pattern G has kept up over the years, it’s comforting to see the most intriguing fragment of his work is still surpassing previous projects.  “Judge” is my personal favorite in this category, carrying out a gazey-grunge style musically and emanating powerful words such as:

“All the time
I try to recall
What drove you away from here
What was dream and what was real
Where was I

That day meant nothing to me
A hiccup in my memory
This life will leave you hungry
I am completely guilty”

Even cheesier or more straightforward lines carried out on tracks like “Bobby” create effortless imagery that is propelled by the adolescent inflection of this duet.

“I paint pictures of my heart
The colors blue and purple start
To bleed into an endless dark
It’s only you it’s only you”

While these lyrics stick and please the standards that Alex G has set for his writing, it is admittable that the themes of his tunes are beginning to weigh thin.

Verdict

Rocket showcases some of Alex G’s most versatile talent to date, holding a heavy focus on not leaning on one sound for too long.  While some more folk centered tracks rely upon tired techniques and certain tracks orders could benefit from better placement, this record is a welcome addition to G’s discography and long-term fans shouldn’t have an issue getting into the tracks presented here.  That being said, Rocket may not be for listeners expecting a reinvented artist.  My honest opinion of this album is a 7/10.

Perfume Genius: No Shape

Generally, a record benefits from having structure and order that help to build upon each and every track into a more complete experience.   For No Shape, the thematic elements that encourage individuality go hand-in-hand with the formless song structures that always begin disjointed but find their place in bombastic chorus and melody.  Mike Hadreas has once again reinvented himself for the better and brings an abundance of fresh ideas to explore in a brief 43-minute segment.

If 2014’s release Too Bright is considered Hadreas’ pop record, No Shape is certainly an expansion of those elements set amongst varying rhythms and diverse instrumentation, setting itself apart from anything the effeminate maestro has released so far.

The first notes of the record play descending piano intervals and place the bar at a low point before exploding into a shimmery; bass-engulfed chorus preceded by Hadreas’ delicate vocals.  After repeating this twice, the transition into the next track is abrupt and greeted by spongey guitar strings that begin in a dark and gritty context but eventually develop into a track that effectively serves as a “part two” to the opener “Otherside” with its similar use of hefty synth basslines.

Part of the love I hold for this album is within its excellent track placement and the way the record ultimately resolves itself into a steady rest, as the BPM noticeably decreases consecutively in the last three tracks and feature a lurking marimba instrumental that propels the empty spaces on “Run Me Through” and finishes strong in Hadreas’ arguably most passionate piece “Alan” which accentuates his normally light; airy tone into a throat-sung and flat inflection that appropriately suits the line of “how weird” at the end of each chorus.

The centerpiece of this album is undoubtedly the track “Wreath” and serves as my favorite song on here.  Everything about it rings so perfectly in the context of the other tracks, it’s no surprise that it fit right in the middle of the album.  From the fade-in intro consisting of bright bells and echoing piano movements, Hadreas paints a hopeful picture that hardly even needs words to express the apparent feelings of this piece.  At the peak of the track, the almost-yodeling vocals harken back to Ezra Koenig style melodies that stick in your head and induce singing along (or at least attempted singing).

If there are any drawbacks here, it’s that some spots feel like additions could have been made to create an even better album than the one delivered.  “Every Night” is a light and moving track that holds a sound resolve but also seems like only a little more than an unmarked interlude that was included for an extra time bonus.  The pacing of “Just Like Love” also feels slightly normal compared to the other chaotic moments on this record and therefore suffers some mundane qualities in the verses but are almost ignorable.

As a whole, “No Shape” forms into a truly solid album that showcases an even furthered look into Perfume Genius’ range and songwriting ability.  Through its narrative-esque structure and dynamic instrumentation choice, there is a lot here to experience for both new fans and long-time listeners of the fabulous chamber-pop icon.  My honest opinion of this album is a 9/10