(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.