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(Sandy) Alex G, Frank Ocean collaborator, takes indie crown on ‘Rocket’

(Sandy) Alex G’s album Rocket, released earlier this month, is the culmination of a musical journey that has seen the Philly-native go from recording five albums in his own bedroom, to playing the bars around Temple University, to Pitchfork darling, to Frank Ocean’s recording studio.

Over the first couple years of his career, (Sandy) Alex G, real name Alex Giannascoli, had a prolific catalog consisting of strictly acoustic music, strictly bedroom-recorded, strictly for the coffeehouse or angsty teen’s mixtapes, which earned him a cult-like fanbase and comparisons to Elliot Smith.

But since those initial bandcamp and YouTube releases, many of which have been re-released by Domino Records, Giannascoli has expanded his sound, bringing in other band members to compliment his visions.

Despite any change in sound, all of Alex Giannascoli’s music is grounded in lo-fi indie rock, full of beautiful, sometimes heartbreaking imagery, as well as tongue-in-cheek snark.

Listening to early Alex G, it doesn’t take long to figure out how the Elliot Smith comparisons came to be. On “Change” a young Giannascoli continually drones “I don’t like how things change,” neither do we, man.

But in recent years, Giannascoli has sought new styles and methods of conveying his ideas as they become more complicated than “growing up sucks!!”

On Rocket, and his other concrete releases, DSU (2014) and Beach Music (2015), Giannascoli evokes very different comparisons beyond Smith.

DSU shows an Alex G is still clinging to the coffeehouse, especially vocally, barely singing over the instrumentation, but that instrumentation has veered away from cold brew and into a heavier lane, sometimes evoking the Pixies, sometimes Built to Spill, sometimes Lucinda Williams.

On “Hollow” Giannascoli shows why the indie world found DSU so exciting. One moment we’re being guided around by Giannascoli’s acoustic guitar, then we’re whisked away by a wall of heavy power chords that seem to be taken right from Sonic Youth’s playbook.

Critics raved over DSU, for many it was the realization of Giannascoli’s talents, going from his Elliot Smith-lite recordings in his room to making a fully-formed, ambitious, multi-layered album.

DSU made many of the relevant Best Album lists, in a rave review Pitchfork claimed,

“DSU is worthy of its moment, a 13-song set of warped, idiosyncratic sketches, each capable of wending its way to a distinct place into the hearts of anyone who ever warmed to the idea of ‘indie rock’.”

Alex G, he added the (Sandy) to his name after continually being confused with the (very different) other musician Alex G, signed to Domino Records in 2015 and dropped Beach Music as his first release on an actual label.

After the breakthrough of DSU, where the indie world felt they had found a new standard-bearer, Beach Music was perhaps a slight disappointment.

If DSU showed Giannascoli coming out of his shell, Beach Music felt like a retreat back into it. The music was more experimental, and darker, than DSU.

(Sandy) Alex G brought in some synthesizers and drum machines to push his sound even further, “Salt” sounds like The Cranberries on acid.

Beach Music is initially pretty inaccessible, there’s just a lot going on, but the complexity of the music makes the album worth a serious listen.

Regardless, Giannascoli’s music caught the attention of the indie elite, and beyond.

While touring the U.K. in 2016, Giannascoli received an email from Frank Ocean’s manager asking him to come by and record some stuff for the album Ocean was working on.

In an interview with Stereogum, Alex G is pretty low-key about the whole thing,

“[Frank Ocean would] just be like, ‘Hey here’s the stuff.’ And he had an engineer, Caleb, and then they’d give me a guitar and I’d just figure shit out on the spot. They would just play me a vocal track or whatever and I’d just fuck around for hours and then they’d pick and choose if they liked it or not.”

But how did Frank find out about Giannascoli’s music?

“I don’t know… dude, I WISH I knew. I feel like people always ask me that and I feel like a dumbass ‘cause I’m just like, ‘I have no idea.’ He’s just a super normal-ass nice guy… I’m grateful he asked me.”

As for his actual contributions on Blonde, Alex G plays the opening guitar chords in “Self Control” and the end guitar in “White Ferrari”. On “White Ferrari” Alex G is credited alongside Kanye West, Paul McCartney, and John Lennon.

His credits on Blonde gave Alex G a sort of mythology, he was Frank Ocean’s favorite indie dude. So when (Sandy) Alex G announced in March that he was releasing his new album Rocket in May, it was met with all sorts of hype.

The Philly-native absolutely delivered; Rocket is a fully-fleshed album of an artist in complete control of their powers.

At times, Rocket is straight up acoustic folky rock, like on “Proud”.

But Alex G is still down to get weird with it.

“Witch” sounds like a Toro y Moi b-side, and “Horse” has Animal Collective written all over it.

“Brick” is experimental hardcore, sounding like something from The Prodigy.

But Giannascoli is always going to bring us back to his roots. “Powerful Man” is a beautifully-written acoustic track with backup violin from Molly Germer, Alex G’s now-girlfriend.

And “Big Fish” could’ve been taken right from Giannascoli’s early bedroom recordings.

“Guilty”, the final track off the album, is a jazzy multi-instrumental conclusion to an album that spans the indie world and beyond.

Rocket shows Giannascoli’s ability to do basically whatever the hell he wants musically.

He is an incredibly talented songwriter, able to illustrate the anomie and detachment of suburban America, even as his personal career takes him into Frank Ocean’s studio and sold out tours in the U.S. and abroad.

On Rocket, (Sandy) Alex G seizes the indie crown.

The music week in review: Gucci Mane, Alex G, Bryson Tiller, Lorde and more

It’s Memorial Day Weekend, people. This means we’re officially in summer music territory. You need new tracks for your rooftop parties, your road trips, the morning after hangover as you contemplate last night’s decisions. We got you.

A bunch of new shit has dropped over the past week and we’re here to help you sort through it and find your barbecue song for this weekend and beyond.

Gucci Mane – Droptopwop

East Atlanta Santa dropped his sixth project since being released from prison a year ago today. That’s like an entire career’s worth of material in one calendar year.

On Droptopwop Gucci does what he does best, seamlessly flowing over some immaculate production from Metro Boomin’ (executive producer) and a group of the best minds in hip-hop production. “Met Gala” with Offset is a standout.

(Sandy) Alex G – Rocket

Last Friday, Philadelphia artist Alex Giannascoli released an alluring, multifaceted album, spanning the world of indie rock. It’s highly recommended listening.

On the surface, this record is easy to listen to, but it’s also extremely complex in its composition. Early contender for album of the year for me.

Bryson Tiller – True to Self

Pen Griffey dropped his second full length album last night, a month before schedule. After the widely successful Trapsoul, Tiller has a lot to live up to. According to CJ, it’s fire.

Danzing – Black Laden Crown

Danzig have returned with some face-melting guitar riffs and some lyrics about devils and other Dungeons and Dragons subjects.

If you’re looking for some badass bluesy metal played by dudes in their 60s, this should be extremely your shit.

Lorde – “Green Light” (Chromeo Remix)

The Funk Lord(e)s have returned to reimagine Lorde’s new song about not actually liking beaches, which is ironic because this is definitely some summer beach party music.

It’s good to have Chromeo back doing their thing again, hopefully more to come from the Montreal duo.

A$AP Rocky – “RAF” ft. Playboi Carti, Quavo, Lil Uzi Vert, Frank Ocean

Rocky’s new single honors the fashion designer du jour, and hosts many of the most relevant hip-hop artists, to make one trendy-ass song. Anytime Frank Ocean and Quavo are on the same song, it’s bound to be some cool shit.

Washed Out – “Get Lost”

After taking over the indie scene with Life and Leisure (2009) and Within Without (2011) and being one of the main initiators of the early 2010’s chillwave renaissance, Washed Out, real name Ernest Green, hadn’t released any solo work since 2013. Until today.

Washed Out fans will find the sound on “Get Lost” very familiar, if not a little refined.

Smokepurpp – “Different Color Molly”

Like it or not, these South Florida rappers are here to stay. Smokepurpp might be the most palatable of the bunch with his laid back (and drugged out) flow.

On “Different Color Molly” Smoke is… taking a bunch of drugs and singing along with his chopper over a bouncy beat, courtesy of Slight.

Chuck Berry – “Lady B. Goode”

Chuck Berry, the late great godfather of rock music, wrote an ode to his wife, with “three generations of Berrys – Chuck, son Charles Jr. and grandson Charles III” all playing guitar on the track released earlier today, according to Rolling Stone.

Future – “Mask Off” (Remix) ft. Kendrick Lamar

How can you make the hottest song in hip-hop even more of a smash? Add Kendrick to it. It’s pretty simple.