REVIEW: (Sandy) Alex G – 'House of Sugar'
Written for NME [05/09/19]
The prolific, inventive Philadelphia musician assumes various characters on his ninth LP, though in parts he's also invigorated with a new lyrical directness
Perhaps the most fascinating thing about (Sandy) Alex G is how he manages to release an album of consistently original, absorbing material every couple of years. Since his first self-released record in 2010 (‘Race’), the 26-year-old Philadelphia artist has gone on to release a further eight albums. His latest – the wildly creative and simultaneously cohesive ‘House of Sugar’ – is his third for Domino. The British indie label has exposed the songwriter’s intimate bedroom recordings to an audience beyond a cult following. And ‘House of Sugar’ is the record to unite fans old and new.
Alex Giannascoli has often tampered with welding odd and accessible ideas together, but he hasn’t previously succeeded quite this well. His last record, 2017’s ‘Rocket’, offered ample space for experiment (see the doomy punk-meets-trip-hop of ‘Brick’) but also heralded a variation on the lo-fi indie guitar rock of his earlier albums. Banjo trills, violins and country-laced acoustic tales bookended ‘Rocket’, with the off-kilter cuts constrained to the middle. On ‘House of Sugar’, Giannascoli borrows from that structural imprint but this time comes armed with melodies you swear you’ve known your whole life.
Bluesy shuffle-pop number ‘Gretel’ is an instant highlight. In Giannascoli’s retelling of the famous Brothers Grimm tale Hansel and Gretel, he envisages the song’s titular character leaving her brother to perish in the witch’s ‘House of Sugar’. It’s one of the many times Giannascoli plays narrator or introduces new ones (there are tales of addicts and conmen here).
Opener ‘Walk Away’ loops with Giannascoli’s signature pitch-shifted vocals and the kind of kitchen sink lyrical vignettes that long-standing fans have come to over about on Reddit. Lines such as “not today” and “gonna walk away from you” emerge amid a messy reverie of reversed guitars and lumbering beats. But it’s the familiar, pentatonic piano hook that sews everything up, allowing you to take root in the track’s meandering strains. It makes a somewhat confounding song more comprehensive and enjoyable.
Addiction is painted vividly on ‘Hope’, an acoustic jangle-pop song about a friend of Giannascoli who overdosed on Fentanyl. It’s rare to hear Giannascoli’s vocals so clear in the mix; likewise, the lyrics are directly autobiographical rather than his more typical conflation of reality and imagination.
Could this lyrical directness herald a new direction for Giannascoli? Unlikely. By his own admission, his songs are rarely constructed from a place of deeply considered meaning. Instead, they’re largely streams of his conscience: creations that invite listeners to cosy up in his world. On ‘House of Sugar’, it’s his most exciting invitation yet.