What’s with the name changes lately? In some cases, they make sense; take, for instance, Eskimeaux’s recent change to Ó or Viet Cong becoming Preoccupations last year so as both wouldn’t face obvious racist claims. Other groups do it as a simple rebranding tactic exemplified by Dad Punchers developing into Warm Thoughts or Daylight turning into Superheaven overnight (I actually preferred their original name). In any case, it’s hard to accept new names especially if the band is an established entity in a music scene. With that said, how do we, as fans, react to Alex G’s new moniker ‘(Sandy) Alex G’?
Personally, I’m skeptical about the new name. Both Sandy and Alex G are good, but them stylized together is interesting. Perhaps this is a transitional period for the Philadelphia songwriter and just ‘Sandy’ will remain on the other side of it. Or maybe this is the permanent designation and we have to get used to it. Whatever the outcome is, it won’t damage his music on any level and the new LP, Rocket, from Alexander Giannascoli is proof of that. Released a couple days ago, Rocket is already an album making appearances on the mix CDs in my car and hopefully the same goes for other listeners.
The thirteen-track record is a departure for Giannascoli by infusing more elements of noise and traditional instrumentation into one another. I’ve only been through the album a few times now so it’s probably not fair for me to say that there’s similarities between Rocket and the Beatles’ White Album but I’ll go ahead and make that claim. Other than the experimental quality which stands out as the big link between the two albums, lyrically, they seems to match up. There are more songs that take on a personal or literal point of view than some of (Sandy) Alex G’s past work. Much like the White Album, I feel closer to the subjects of the songs.
Take for instance, Bobby, the fourth track on the album. Bobby is a good example of Rocket in that it encompasses much of the things I mentioned in the previous paragraph. The song opens with a nice melody led by a fiddle, acoustic guitar, and banjo. The listener shouldn’t be taken aback by the additional vocal accompaniment that follows, but by the traditional folk arrangement the song takes on. In our piece on Father John Misty’s latest album, Pure Comedy, I made a prediction that alternative country is bound to make a comeback soon and tracks like Bobby along with some of (Sandy) Alex G’s other new material only prove that hypothesis to be true.
Instrumentation is key in the growth of Giannascoli’s sound on Rocket as the following track, Witch, features a harpsichord keyboard, an instrument not used in popular music much since the 60’s.
There are multiple, good interludes on Rocket as are on the White Album (last time I’ll mention the Beatles, I promise). However, instead of the interludes acting as a break between similar songs, Giannascoli uses these instrumentals as vehicles to break into sections that deviate completely from the art folk he’s known for.
It’s around the middle of the album that the listener is transported out of their comfort zone by one of (Sandy) Alex G’s aforementioned interludes to another dimension sonically. Where we end up is at the eighth track, Sportstar, one of my favorite singles on Rocket. The song features a heavily auto tuned vocal from Giannascoli over an acoustic piano, reminiscent of Justin Vernon’s work in Bon Iver.
Giannascoli knows not to take his fans on a complete whirlwind without delivering some classic tracks before the album is finished. Alina is a song fans of the pre-name change (Sandy) Alex G will enjoy. Following the collage-like title track, it has a great ‘early Saturday morning feel. The next, Big Fish, also follows the self-referential theme as a nice way bring listeners down to earth and is a touching song too, one might add. With the lines “don’t ask me questions pa, you know I’m a big old fish now”, Big Fish is a humorous take on parental relationships; a classic theme in the punk writing style Giannascoli takes cues from.
We talk a lot about maturity and expansion in sound or aesthetic when it comes to music on Hell of a Thing. On the surface, maybe that’s because this writer is in his mid-twenties and experiencing the same phenomenon in his own life. It’s also because in a world where good artists are traded in for the next thing, this website believes in investing in things that are genuine, even if they aren’t fully evolved yet. Like our own lives, music is supposed to change otherwise it becomes boring and with (Sandy) Alex G’s name change and sound on Rocket, things just got more interesting.
Click here to listen to Bobby.
– By Mike Metcalf