For being only 24 years old, Alex Giannascoli has already accumulated quite a few names. Originally working his way into the Philadelphia indie rock scene simply as Alex G, he rode a wave of his own raw, transparent, acoustic guitar-based lo-fi rock to become a Bandcamp and small-label star. After releasing five of these smaller full-lengths (the last of which, DSU, received extensive outstanding press), and seven single/EP releases, he made the jump over to Domino Recording Company, where he released Beach Music in 2015, opening his music, style, and identity up to a whole new audience.
Like a few of his indie rock brethren—Rostam, Jamie XX, and Amber Coffman among others—Alex G appeared last year on Frank Ocean’s Blonde, playing guitar on tracks “Self Control” and “White Ferrari”. This extra exposure all leads into Rocket, the latest release from the genre-bender that dropped back in May. Recording now as (Sandy) Alex G, Rocket is his second release with Domino, and his biggest release yet. It’s also the most listenable—and easily the best argument to win over a potential new fan.
It’s impossible to listen to Rocket without thinking of Elliott Smith, an obvious idol of Giannascoli’s, and someone whose aura he legitimately captures. With a perfect mix of homage, build, and addition, the sound is all there, and it’s a spiritual succession that makes sense and can’t be missed. Where it succeeds, mainly, is in the build. It doesn’t sound like someone simply ribbing on Smith’s sound—rather, it builds on it, taking the Elliott Smith sound of the 90s and early 2000s that fans love, and working to bring it into this modern era. The album takes all of this, and turns it into a final product that’s just so aesthetically pleasing—and is so from the absolute get-go.
Which is why I’d like to bring attention, foremost, to Rocket’s opening track “Poison Root.” Rocket’s fourth track, “Bobby,” —a tremendous song in it’s own right—has gotten much of the accolades as the new album’s standout. But ‘Poison Root,” at only 2:25, is a perfect thesis statement for what Rocket brings to the table, and more broadly, what Alex G brings as an artist.
From the opening moments, you can hear the multi-instrumentation, as the delicate strums of his guitar are eventually joined by vocals, and an Americana-sounding string arrangement. The solemn, downtrodden mood that the vocals create, with thoughtful lyrics (“Now I know everything…” is repeated throughout, haunting the listener, immediately immersing you in this world) are aided by more and more instruamentation as the song goes along. But through it all, those haunting, unnerving vocals continue. The mood is set, the vibes are out, and we know from the first 145 seconds of the album, what we’re being sold.
And that continues for 41 more minutes, through 14 more tracks of guitar solos, Elliott Smith-esque acoustics, and even some electronic distortion. It’s a work of music that not only stands out in today’s landscape, but further establishes Alex G’s own legacy. It’s not everyone that catches Frank Ocean’s attention, after all, and it’s certainly not everyone who gets invited to collaborate with the sometimes-reclusive R+B star (particularly at just 23 years old). With “Poison Root,” and the rest of Rocket, we see that there’s constant growth—and more to come, too—with indie’s latest crooning guitar wunderkind.
Some people you may have heard of in the music industry had name changes or amendments, too—Tupac Shakur went by 2Pac, and also recorded as Makaveli. Prince recorded solo, with his band The Revolution, and of course as this: Ƭ̵̬̊ (sorry, probably the best I can do there). With his given name, and now Alex G, in the dust, headlights are clearly shining on a vast road of success ahead, just waiting for (Sandy) Alex G to put the pedal to the metal and hit the gas—and with the head start that “Poison Root” and Rocket afford him, he’s well on his way to getting there.
(Sandy) Alex G plays the first of two sold-out NYC shows tonight at Music Hall of Williamsburg. He’ll headline Bowery Ballroom tomorrow night.
Photo by Tonje Thilesen