Reviewed by: Ziggy Merritt
For what it’s worth, sudden and impulsive name changes often lead to interesting developments in the career of any artist. From Alex G to the parenthetical of (Sandy) Alex G, the Philly-native’s latest is reflective of that outwardly peculiar practice. Perhaps someday in the future we’ll be granted a more substantive reason behind this change, but a part of me hopes that mystery stays just that. Whatever the case, his latest, Rocket ends up being one of those interesting developments that thankfully does not invert the very definition.
Anything from yacht rock to alt country is explored in some depth, though it’s the former that ends up being the most rewarding in an almost spiritual sense. It’s a puzzling album from an artist who has traditionally been compared (however favorably) to Elliot Smith and his brand of downtempo pop. This album dispels that comparison for the better. (Sandy) Alex G should no longer be someone to be compared to anyone else, but instead the muse for other aspiring musicians to compare themselves to.
A lot of that praise comes from the impassioned tracks near the open and close of the album. “Proud” and “Powerful Man” are equal contenders for indie anthem of the year and I hesitate to call them indie. Shades of bluegrass flow through each with an infectious and easygoing vibe from Alex’s vocals that provoke good-natured, toe-tapping frivolity. It counters much of the lo-fi anti-folk that makes up his extensive back-catalog. They’re almost pastoral in their execution, with a further track, “Bobby” extending tried-and-true themes of love and belonging.
Still, some of the compositions thrown together in the middle lose me. The cacophonous noise rock of “Horse” and the dissonant, half-screamo of “Brick” are entirely off-putting. They belong to a disappointing middle that leaves something to be desired when the rest of what Rocket offers feels so pure. “Sportstar” is a thankful exception that piles together filtered AutoTune vocals, a propulsive piano track, and a production that infuses a bit of tropical harmonics. If awkward at times, it works for re-engaging the listener. After all, this is a collection of experiments, with some tracks that explode and others that alchemize lead into gold.
In fact it’s a hard album to forget. At the end of writing this review I can count at least five songs from Rocket that I want to put on repeat for my daily commute. There’s such an inspired if therapeutic serenity to the way this album was constructed. It begs for nothing and simply asks the listener to sit still and enjoy.