(Sandy) Alex G - House Of Sugar - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

(Sandy) Alex G - House Of Sugar

by Mark Moody Rating:7 Release Date:2019-09-13
(Sandy) Alex G - House Of Sugar
(Sandy) Alex G - House Of Sugar

The follow-up to (Sandy) Alex G’s Rocket finds his alter ego, Alex Giannascoli, armed with a new weapon.  A new laptop and an updated copy of GarageBand don’t exactly hold the excitement of say “two tray tables and a microphone”, but you work with what you got.  And work it Giannascoli does over the course of House Of Sugar.  For the most part, the album leaves the acoustic based and pastoral sound of Rocket behind. Still primarily self-performed and recorded, the updated technology allows for layers of loops, beats, and vocals to be piled on top of each other and endlessly tweaked.   

To prove the point, the four-minute opener ‘Walk Away’ puts the listener through the paces of backward loops and a chopped, minimalistic vocal scramble before giving way to the album proper.  Something of a rite of entry, the album then courses from a handful of more straightforward tracks to instrumental interludes, and a more developed sonic landscape on tracks like the already released singles of ‘Hope’ and ‘Gretel’.  Whether mourning the loss of a friend on the trippy ‘Hope’ or living life without breadcrumbs on ‘Gretel’, the strength of the songs come from deeply seated melodies that Giannascoli and a handful of friends play over the top of.  These two songs sandwich a more earnest and open ‘Southern Sky’ where vocalist Emily Yacina (who also sang on Rocket’s ‘Bobby’) joins in accompanied by dancehall piano notes and violin.  As if to hammer home the song’s simplicity it migrates to a playground “you can’t catch me” melody at the end. 

Other bookended passages make for some of the most interesting moments on House of Sugar.  Though fairly straightforward as the instrumentals go, ‘Project 2’ brings a different tone to the mix.  The airy synths are joined by ominous pipe organ notes that recall the gravitas of Arca’s self-titled album of a few years back.  The stakes are anted up further on the heavier handed ‘Sugar’ with its indecipherably manipulated vocals and disembodied piano notes.  Both tracks evoke a sort of uncomfortably dark religiosity.  Though ‘Bad Man’ appearing between them shares a low bottom in its dragged cello note, Giannascoli lightens the musical mood a bit with a cornpone accented vocal on a song replete with handclaps, drum machine, and wordless harmonies. 

The balance of the album is decidedly simpler in approach.  Though ‘In My Arms’ is colored with some level of feedback, the echoey acoustic ballad is all heart in the end:  “pull up my car outside your house, took out the seats so we could lie down”.  The just as lovely ‘Cow’ with its ‘Hey Hey My My’ chord progression would make for a solid sing-along if not for being particularly obtuse.  Not sure who or what “you’re a big ol’ cow” is directed at, but following it up with a “kiss on the mouth” makes it all the more confounding.  Unfortunately, the album ends with its clunkiest moments.  ‘Crime’ just meanders down a schmaltzy path, but ‘Sugar House’ makes for a fizzled finish.  Recorded live and in tribute to a local casino, the post-production layering on of saxophone results in a mix of ‘Baker Street’ with a Steely Dan rhythm.  Not a winning hand to close things out on.

All in all, House of Sugar makes for another interesting patchwork of Alex G songs with the added element of updated technology leading to a few new twists and turns.  Giannascoli seems more interested in pushing boundaries and playing around with sounds than trying to make the world's next great album.  No doubt that will be just fine with his supporters.  He’s a unique artist with a loyal (and growing) fan base and House of Sugar will do nothing to diminish that.

 

                  

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