ALEX REVIEWS MUSIC (ARM): ALEX G, A$AP ROCKY, BLACK THOUGHT & TBS SINGLES | 2022-06-19

As the feel good heat of the Western Hemisphere summer nears and approaches arts patrons the world over, so it seems a brand new sorcerous episodic ARM segment touching down on a gauntlet of unrelated and loose singles accompanied by rapid (vapid?), forthright, passionate, and gate-kept opinions. It is a jolly and momentous round up of enthusing one-off, lead, and follow-up records alike—in some cases anticipating a pre-announced full album release, whilst in others simply dangling the pendulum of disparate speculation and excitement for more to come in front of thirsty music pundits’ noses. A few of these are long-awaited, highly-anticipated returns to form, others flat out surprise drops, all with the addition of a perhaps once unthinkable crossover no one really asked for, yet in twenty-twenty (surgery) hindsight of its release genuinely asserting its rhyme and reason.

Philadelphia-native and 2000s lo-fi indie royalty Alex G does truly appear to be back on his dragged feet as of late, following almost three years of near noble silence since offering the mystical, God-forsaken, and form-less art pop exploit House of Sugar—a quasi-benchmarking essay in late stage capitalism’s induction to morph purposeful noise and tender melody in a hodgepodge of feels. Mere months ago, the 29-year-old Domino Recording Company talent showed up and delivered on the unlikely role of principal scorer for Jane Schoenbrun’s coming-of-age horror drama We’re All Going to the World’s Fair soundtrack. The Utopia-distributed, Sundance Film Festival-premiered feature-length film comes through attached to a glowing, foreboding, and glacial 13-track OST album, wholly curated by Alex G. Such an extra-curricular outing by the normally insular and elusive singer/songwriter features both a “Main Theme” opener and an “End Song” coda reprising the motion picture’s primary musical and lyrical undercurrent. Both manage to effortlessly gallop alongside the frail and cathartic razor’s edge courtesy of the Frank Ocean-protégé’s trademark musical ethos. Bone-less bendings leaning from the edge of gloomy bedroom pop leakages atop of a self-deprecating throne. Pure, raw, and untouched Alex G canon.

Perhaps more relevantly, just weeks after the release of said full OST project, the six-string troubadour saw fit to also dish out what for all intents and purposes oughta be considered the first real lead single from his yet to be announced forthcoming ninth studio album cycle. Unveiled officially on 23rd May, “Blessing“‘s three minutes and change of uncut 90s alt-rock-borrowed distortion, mixed with a tight straightforward rhythm section, comes and goes as a flickering tide of melting sonic verses and intelligently woven counterpoint melodies—delivered in a suspiciously forlorn beck-and-call whispering mode that results ever so out of place vis-a-vis the balls to the wall synth layering earmarking the cut’s post-chorus, or outro. Deceivingly enough though, the singular tune wonderfully sticks its experimental landing, and actually proves to render itself more and more memorable with time, unfolding ounces of sticky and addictive replay value with each listen: it’s esprit d’escalier galore if there ever was one.

Meanwhile, Lord Pretty Flacko himself blessed the mainstream hip-hop lore with the comeback hit single “D.M.B.” (aka DAT$ MAH B!*$H) earlier in May—a hallucinating chopped-and-screwed tape-mounting experience masquerading as his very personal joie de vivre ode to both narcotics and women, to be understood as fitting marijuana and Rihanna’s descriptions. The experimental number was first teased online as part of an advertisement for disgraced Swedish fintech company Klarna as far back as summer last year, and is slated to be appearing on A$AP Rocky’s speculative and crowdsourcedly-named forthcoming fourth studio album, ALL $MILES. Sonically, the RCA Records-earmarked song is a warped and invertebrate psychedelic rap cloud of multi-layered overdubs, spanning viscous samples, a sweet and endearing electric guitar lick, as well as an expansive and spastic drum machine syncopation—sporting the joint venture trademark production of a slew of co-signs including grime heavyweight Skepta and D33J.

Soaked and buttered in many of the stylistic aesthetic inklings prevalent on his formidable last major project Testing—coasting through everything from sly vocal manipulation to phasers set to stun—”D.M.B.” reveres in a ridiculously elliptical and hivemind hook (“Roll my blunt, fill my cup, be my bitch / Hold my gun, load it up, count my slugs / Yeah, they don’t know nothin’ / Roll my blunt, be my bitch / They don’t know nothin’) and rises above the fray by way of the endulced, serenading, and heavenly bridge kicking in 2:40 minutes into the track: “Baby / It’s been a little time since we both / Felt full since our first encounter / And baby / Don’t let another n**** try my baby / Girl you know I’m one call away / It’s nothin’ / And baby / My angel and my Goddess, when my head get clouded / You’re my soulmate, my Goddess / And baby / Took a little time in a gray place / For nothing, nothing“.

Elsewhere, it is a bona fide meeting of the underground hip-hop minds the one that finds 44-year old musician, songwriter and record producer Danger Mouse sculpt modularly poignant tapestries of soulful spine-bending backtrack beats for the unparalleled and envelope-pushing wordsmithing craft of The Roots’ mainstay MC Black Thought. Cheat Codes, the brand new back-to-back collaborative LP set for release at the tail end of summer, sees its anticipatory lead up campaign already in full steam mode inasmuch as two abstract and elusive teasers unveiled ahead of its full street date on 12th August. “No Gold Teeth”’s cleverly laced, dramatically sensual samples paved the promotional way with a somewhat soft surprise drop in early May, piercing through with Black Thought’s both life-affirming and tongue-in-cheek sixteens alike. Lending a substantial urgency to every verse, the joint ushers into gangster territory in a ‘heat of the moment’ fashion, hitting a runtime cul-de-sac before one quite wishes to realise, despite its formal two minutes and a half of clockwork.

A few months later—and sequenced right after the aforementioned dental blonde on the full length’s tracklist—the dusty and rough-around-the-edges stream of posse consciousness inertia encapsulated by “Because” significantly upped the realness ante. Trading fierce and inflammatory flows navigating through a smokey, cavernicolous, and woody production whilst periodically getting re-centered by Dylan Cartlidge’s affable refrain, Philadelphia-native Tariq Luqmaan Trotter, Joey Bada$$, and Russ get (listeners) in meticulous line and build upon each other’s pamphlet of maximes and truisms about notions of survival of the blackest/fittest as well as success’ fatalist nature. With such additional guests poised to be featured on Cheat Codes’ remaining joints as the above A$AP Mob leader Rocky, the late MF DOOM, as well as A-list rap collective spinoffs like Run the Jewels and Griselda Records’s very own Conway the Machine, it’s safe to say that the anticipation is running high for what might well turn out to be one of the most essential hip-hop listens of the year.

Lastly, there are so many ways in which a Taking Back Sunday and Steve Aoki collaboration could have gone terribly, irreparably wrong in 2022. Out of the myriad of parallel universes that cohabitate our existence, it’s both baffling and flabbergasting that the one graced by our very own human sentient presence would have been the one to gestate it. And to think that it’s not that TBS were scraping their creative barrel out of content saturation anxiety as of late. On the contrary; aside from questionable band anniversary bundles, throwaway acoustic B-sides left on the cutting room floor, a legitimate Weezer cover song, as well as the upteenth reissue of their modern emo classic Tell All Your Friends, the Long Island alt rock veterans have essentially kept quiet and passive for nearly seven years since the straight up no frills alt rock of Tidal Wave. During that time, really nothing much to report—absent the regrettable departure of founding member and rhythm guitarist Eddie Reyes in 2018, their cutting ties with California-based indie Hopeless Records, as well that Fuckin Whatever side supergroup project. Hence why, the improbable outfit pairing between John Nolan, Adam Lazzara, Mark O’Connell, Shaun Cooper and the 44-year old American DJ, record producer, and Dim Mak record executive strikes as all the more haphazard.

Yet amazingly so, the riveting musical joint venture revealed around a week ago on “Just Us Two” panned out strong and convincing throughout. Thankfully, the one-off collab follows admittedly more of a third act Taking Back Sunday trademark formula with the sparkled addition of peppered Aoki flairs on top of it, rather than the other way around. This manifests primarily in the form of the DJ’s bouncy, elastic, and spacious synths playing second fiddle in accompany mode to the odd 6/8 song’s principal edgy refrain (“I remember the way that it felt / I remember the way that it felt / Watched the sun go down / Sitting on your roof / And the air was thick / Yeah our heads were too / Watched the sun come up / Sitting on your roof / Yeah, the air was thick / It was just us two“), as well as the anthemic and triumphant post-chorus group chants. However, one can’t help but feeling like it’s giant shame lost on our zeitgeist’s ears, for if it weren’t for today’s jeopardising goldfish memory span, the latter are made of the stuff that could define a generation: “These are the days / Always remember / These are the days / Always forever“.

I’d like to thank you sincerely for taking the time to read this and I hope to feel your interest again next time.

AV

ALEX G

BLESSING

2022, Domino Recording

http://sandyalexg.com

A$AP ROCKY

D.M.B.

2022, RCA Records

https://www.asapmob.com

BLACK THOUGHT & DANGER MOUSE

CHEAT CODES

2022, BMG Rights Management

https://twitter.com/blackthought

TAKING BACK SUNDAY & STEVE AOKI

JUST US TWO

2022, Dim Mak Records

http://www.takingbacksunday.com

ON (SANDY) ALEX G’S MYSTICAL LOW-FIDELITY MELODY LAYERING | 2019-09-15

I’m just so unbelievably glad and fundamentally content that I stuck to my warm initial instinct and kept on believing its by-productized original hype, when it comes to Philadelphia-born singer-songwriter (Sandy) Alex G. Hailing from the somewhat overcooked and saturated strain of post-2010 homegrown, DYI, Zoomers-appealing bedroom-extraordinaries who conquered much of Bandcamp’s real estate during this past decade, the 26-year old yours truly-namesake arguably still touts his personalised claim to fame as him being the main six-strings architect and arranger behind Frank Ocean‘s summer of 2016 legendary release combo Blonde + Endless. Reverse engineering and unpacking the latter two album’s contents over the past couple years often led me to him, in one way or another. Too bad the many tries and attempts at delving into Alex’s existing discographic repertoire to date pretty much always yielded nothing more than metaphorical cul-de-sacs, with little to nothing in the way of deeper creative connection to be established with his confused, hazy, and spotty musical work including everything up until his 2017 LP Rocket. Yet something inside me kept whispering that there was merit to be rescued somewhere in there.

The above leitmotiv fiercely and completely fell out of the window a few days ago, upon arrival of his latest Domino-issued studio album, House of Sugar. His third on the trailblazing and influential British indie label, the record is a gorgeously hallucinating compilation of layered harmonic sound waves just short of forty minutes in length. It’s by far unlike anything I have engaged with in very, very, long, and I’m not simply referring to the musical realm here. Right off the bat, and throughout its thirteen cuts, House of Sugar’s sonic mantel glues together perfectly woven instrumentations, assembling tenderly infectious motifs, licks, and riffs in both uncomfortable yet stupendously gratifying ways. From the cradle to the grave, this is a map for the lost. Almost too pristinely doctored to still be filed under Alex’s conventional lo-fi musical wheelhouse, the record’s raw and loosely defined contours are perhaps best gripped through a bird’s eye view of the whole, instead of artificial partitioning them across thirteen different chapters. Here, the artistic compromise of track-listing the project into separate songs feels more like a resentful trade necessity, rather than a creative boilerplate to interact with at the songwriting stage. The input might even be lo-fi, but the output is decisively HD.

In an era where former Presidents flex cool Spotify playlists, it should come with no surprise that this thing has no genre. Tracks like “Near“, “Project 2”, and “Sugar” are flat-out indescribable in their spatial-infrastructural depth and variegated melodic density. Yet, their inability to make heads or tails of single components acts as the creative statement’s unequivocal poignant strength, as opposed to it representing a lack of compositional clarity. Throughout House of Sugar, brace yourselves to be stoked head-first with elements ranging from mid-naughties alt-acoustic emo, to experimental lab beats and some of the most enduring Smashing Pumpkins-esque melancholic aesthetic refuges. One might as well throw in peppered nuggets of easy listening IDM, adult alternative radio rock atmospheres, unconventionally paired-up instruments, highly introspective and revealing lyrics, and suddenly one arrives at a place where they could begin to translate this record’s spirit and soul into dried words. Beware, as the act of pressing play on album opener “Walk Away” rapidly decays into a void and senseless protocol, fully overtaken by the full length’s mystical sonic might, one that centrifuges the whole 38 minutes into a unified vortex of light, beauty, and redeeming splendour. It would be easy to imagine House of Sugar as a short movie of sorts, plugging into multimedia sensory experiences exclusively by way of its sounds and aesthetics, an illusory plateau that perfectly comes to mental fruition with each repeated new listen.

I’m just so unbelievably glad and fundamentally content that I stuck to my warm initial instinct and kept on believing its by-productized original hype, when it comes to Philadelphia-born singer-songwriter (Sandy) Alex G. This album is fantastic, an interstellar journey venturing into otherworldly sound sensations, allowing one to come out of the other way with their filthy hands cleansed top to bottom. Perhaps leading us to states not too unlike the graciously cathartic ice skater’s depicted on the record’s sleeve, this collection of tracks’ dazed gripping potency places itself as an unquestionable frontrunner for modern day self-serving modularities of escapism. Let us not kid ourselves. There are no lead singles here. No official music videos. Just an enthralling and continuous stream of consciousness music tape supplying seamless stylistic mood transitions between thirteen not-so-distinct acts, all veraciously accompanying personal enlightened ascensions climbing metaphysical stairways to heaven. Come to think of it, this might just be the Bandcamp generation’s Endless.

I’d like to thank you sincerely for taking the time to read this and I hope to feel your interest again next time.

AV

Sandy Alex G_House