(Sandy) Alex G Rocket Domino
It was quietly exciting to discover the music of Alex Giannascoli – now officially known as (Sandy) Alex G – when his breakthrough album DSU was released in 2014. The excellent LP encouraged new fans to dig into the young Philadelphia ‘bedroom’ artist’s BandCamp page, which was deep with humble home recordings. The reference points were generally retro, with Giannascoli’s vocals bringing to mind the hushed delivery of Elliott Smith, and the unpolished guitars drawing comparison to the kind of 90s bands associated with American college radio culture. But Giannascoli had what so many derivative indie acts lack: great songs.
DSU was decorated with unpretentious experimental flourishes, and Giannascoli indulged a little more for 2015’s Beach Music. Rocket – Giannascoli’s eighth LP and his second with Domino – is by far his most ambitious record to date.
Maybe the 24-year-old has had a confidence boost after playing guitar on Frank Ocean’s albums Endless and Blond[e]. Although Giannascoli and Ocean are rooted in disparate genres – indie rock and RnB, respectively – it’s interesting that they now share some common ground. Like Blond[e], there are songs here which evoke the casual beauty of summer memories with reverb-drenched vocals, distant guitars and pianos. Great melodies emerge from interludes or get lost in the breeze. Elsewhere, Giannascoli experiments on County with organs, a wandering bassline and a guitar solo that is reminiscent of The Doors, and on closer Guilty he goofs out a little by in bringing new age choir synths and a lounge jazz sax solo. Most striking is Brick, with its distorted barks, pulverising bass and aggressive electronic drum programming making (Sandy) Alex G sound like a lo-fi Death Grips. Does Giannascoli pull it off? Not quite, but it’s good fun nonetheless.
Album highlight Bobby sees Giannascoli return to straightforward songwriting (which, I’d argue, is still where he’s at his best) but there’s a considerably more fleshed-out feel in comparison to those more solipsistic early recordings. If DSU was the bedroom classic, then Rocket is the record for which Alex Giannascoli came outside to enjoy his time under the sun.