Alex G stays weird with latest release 'House of Sugar'

Categories:  Music    The Arts
Friday, October 4th, 2019 at 11:47 AM
Alex G stays weird with latest release 'House of Sugar' by Evan Donovan

For those familiar with (Sandy) Alex G, it will be no surprise to hear that his newest release, “House of Sugar,” is weird.

Since the release of 2004’s “DSU,” Alex Giannascoli has amassed a cult following around his brand of unconventional and often freakish songwriting. As such, it’s hard to pin him down to a specific label. To call him just another indie band or lo-fi act feels like mortal sin. These labels fail to describe the most crucial aspect of his music: Alex G has a knack for making the wrong things sound right.

The first track off “House of Sugar” elucidates this point. “Walk Away” welcomes listeners with an abrasive, out-of-tune robot vocalist. “Someday, I’m gonna walk away from you” it assures, struggling through its lines like a slowly deflating balloon. Giannascoli hops on in a sporadic call and response fashion, reciting the line “not today, not today” into infinity.

 Underneath its sweet exterior, “House of Sugar” tells a story of hopelessness and addiction.

On “Hope,” Alex mourns the death of a friend through hazy and detached lyrics. “He was a good friend of mine/He died/Why write about it now?/Gotta honor him somehow.” There is something especially tragic about the way he recounts this experience, stating blandly, “yeah, fentanyl took a few lives from my life.”

 The song “Gretel” continues this dark theme by metaphorically referencing the tale of Hansel and Gretel. Gretel, after witnessing the horrific torture of her brother Hansel, still lusts for the “House of Sugar,” musing that “it’s calling [her] back.” For a relatively short song, it also feels incredibly dynamic, featuring chipmunk-robot vocals, stark tone shifts, and ’80s-style synths.

Alex’s talent for the absurd truly shines throughout the middle tracks. "Taking" and "Near" feature trance-inducing repetition and pitch-shifted vocals. "Taking" does this much better, using vocal repetition to create a dance-worthy groove. "Near" also has a pleasant rhythm section, but the vocals, repeating "you, you, you" at breakneck speeds and drenched in autotune, are obnoxious.

On “Bad Man,” he adopts a heavy southern accent, singing about nothing in particular.  Artificial sounding instrumentation flows through the short track in a nonetheless amusing manner. "Sugar" sounds like intergalactic battle music, with Giannascoli opting for the alien vocal filter on this one.

The album finds its way back in the final four tracks, with some of the better ballads in Alex G's discography. "In My Arms" is half sweet indie love song, half explosive rock song. "Cow" is a dreamy, ethereal tune about — you guessed it — a "big ole' cow." The final song, "SugarHouse," is the perfect ending for the album. It's a live track with jazzy brass instruments and very raw, expressive vocals. The second verse sums up the ethos of Alex G fairly well: "You never really met me/I don't think anyone has/But we could still be players together/Let the sugar house pick up the tab."

For longtime Alex G fans, "House of Sugar" is an essential album. For new listeners, I suggest giving this album a few listens. At first glance, some of these songs may seem scatterbrained or even outright ridiculous. I believe this to be a rather short-sighted observation; it is precisely these traits that make Alex G such an engaging character. His lack of inhibition allows him to weave emotion into places one would least expect. As of now, no Alex G record has done this better than "House of Sugar."

Rating: 8/10

Tags: music review

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