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

ALEX REVIEWS MUSIC (ARM): BROCKHAMPTON – GINGER | 2019-08-24

Godspeed to us all, now blessed and adorned with the fifth studio album in less than three calendar years from self-imposed best boy band since One Direction, the all-American BROCKHAMPTON. It should not come as a surprise to any of you at this point that the dozen people-strong Los Angeles-based posse has been responsible for one of the most creative and exciting artistic journey in the past few years, at least as far as the mainstream commercial realm is concerned. After having sandboxed, doctored, and perfected a near-immaculate transcendental rap trilogy debut spree with their experimental Saturation series throughout 2017—mind you, to put this into perspective, that translates into almost 50 new recordings produced and released within less than twelve months—, the hip-hop collective de-briefed and re-grouped for a minute, allowing itself a breather before coming out with the UK-conceived somber-epic iridescence under rebooted identity and spirit last year.

Not only that, but in the midst of two years filled with writing, touring, promo, co-signs, and features, BROCKHAMPTON’s de-facto leader and creative beacon Kevin Abstract even found time to drop a full LP on his own, coming in the shape of the powerful and therapeutic ARIZONA BABY and dating a mere three months prior to this newest full-band one. Kevin Abstract is arguably a good place to start for GINGER, the group’s latest full length outing that just hit the shelves (GINGER is also their second under the imposing RCA/Sony Music-multi-million deal inked off the back of their blistering Saturation campaign). Abstract’s silent leadership and uncompromising holistic creative vision has always been the brightest North Start for the boy band, whether each individual member likes it or not. Granted, individual MCs such as Dom McLennon or producer-rapper JOBA might have grown faster and more intensely than the group’s frontman per sé over the course of their still-infant discography. However, it’s Kevin’s subtle and refined pen-game, coupled with his immense socio-cultural baggage, that has always acted as necessary catalyst for every new BROCKHAMPTON chapter to date.

Be it his unpredictable, versatile, yet outspoken artistic demeanour, his subdued boy band charisma, or simply his heightened vocation for carrying through with his calling, Kevin Abstract and the whole entire BROCKHAMPTON raison d’être are but two sides of the same, shiny coin. Howbeit, perhaps counter-intuitively, his all-encompassing influence and pep-talk energy appears to have taken somewhat of a backseat on GINGER, at least at a surface level. Sure, his inaugural verse on the album’s flagship first lead single, the structure-less and fluid “I BEEN BORN AGAIN” (unveiled on 31st July), weighs much heavier than just a symbolic ribbon-cutting to the new record cycle. Still, already from the following teasers dropped in anticipation to the full release—from the corky and carnivalesque “IF YOU PRAY RIGHT” (7th August) to the sensationally eclectic “BOY BYE“—his presence appears to be more episodic and marginal, albeit intense nonetheless. On the other hand, it’s gifted rapper and lyricist Dom McLennon who actually comes through with some his more convinced, complex, and technical deliveries on all the album singles. Case in point, his flow on “IF YOU PRAY RIGHT”: “I got spirits in my heart that make my mind move like it’s water / Flow into the moment and avoid the melodrama / Gotta breathe for a second, can’t believe anybody still testing / My whole team is a force to be reckoned with / Operating like specialists / One‚ to the two, to the who are you?“.

Rewinding back to track one, the beautiful and enchanting opening acoustic ballad “NO HALO“, revealed a few days before the release of GINGER, enjoys virtually every composing element of BROCKHAMPTON truly come into their own, displaying unprecedented amounts of executional touch, lyrical valence, emotional merit, and idyllic sonic architecture. As a side note, and just to trace it back to Kevin Abstract’s drive again, it would not be too far off to assume that its crushing reverberated tremolo acoustic guitar and general underlying tune sprouted during the leader’s studio writing sessions for his last solo effort (see “Crumble“). This song sees the welcome return of special guests Ryan Beatty—an old acquaintance of the Kevin and the group, as well as a quasi-member of the collective—and 88rising-lendee Deb Never, who provides her angelic pitch to the song’s celestial refrain. Clocking in at about four minutes and a half, this existential serenade undoubtedly represents one of the record’s key and most important moments, incidentally chosen as the curtain opener by the band.

Interestingly enough, and pretty much in accordance to some of the points outed above, GINGER as whole is BROCKHAMPTON’s shortest album to date, both in terms of track listing (twelve cuts) and run time (45 minutes). Unlike all of their previous efforts, there are no real skits or interludes on this thing, either. This LP witnesses the boy band clearly learning how to hone and refine their compositional virtues over time, resorting to more poignant and necessary statements, decluttering much of what would’ve inevitably come along even a mere six months ago. A prime example of this is the Ryan Beatty-assisted “SUGAR” at number two, a bona fide wholesome R&B/pop song in which both Dom McLennon and Matt Champion spit out standout verses, respectively:

I move mountains on my own, don’t need nobody help Change your mind when I change my life, better start believing in myself / And we all out lookin’ for, lookin’ for God so we never see it in ourself / Shit, divine intervention move in stealth“;

Yeah, back on Vincent with the braces on / Used to slide out the back without the neighbors knowin’ / Pose for the picture with the pearly whites / Dead lens zoomin’ in, catching all my strikes“.

Another such moment is found on track number ten “BIG BOY“, a Kevin Abstract and JOBA-dominated feast of dark and grim soundscapes enveloped in show-stopping and radically catchy bars from each of them. The latter has hardly ever sounded so self-assured and convicted, only to be conveying some of his most personal and delicate sentences ever. Yet with all that being said, the one track that has been causing a wealth of commotion around the BROCKHAMPTON community amidst the release frenzy is undoubtedly “DEARLY DEPARTED“. And rightfully so. Part tune where core OG MCs Kevin Abstract, Matt Champion, and Dom McLennon reinstate their shared lyrical throne, part liberating and cathartic stream of consciousness aimed at cleansing a filthy yet unequivocal past, the song’s superior larger-than-life production and pristinely lush instrumentation make for a joint that is both powerful and gorgeous to the ears.

The raunchy and industrial “ST PERCY“, as well as piano-confessional curtain closer “VICTOR ROBERTS“, add to the proud list of these next-generation BROCKHAMPTON cuts whose production, songwriting, and delivery shine through in evolved form, and where the messaging is more succinct and to the point, where a certain sense of musical structure prevails over sheer off-the-wall lab experimentation. Notwithstanding this, GINGER is not free of fat that could have been cut or even flat out snoozers. Such are the UK-grime rapper on-the-rise slowthai-guested “HEAVEN BELONGS TO YOU“, a track that unfortunately sticks out like a sore thumb lending no additional ounce of rhyme nor reason to the overall picture. Meanwhile, the half-baked self-titled joint, drown in pitch distortion and autotune as it is, makes for what sounds like a forgettable and flavourless indie-pop number. Penultimate song “LOVE ME FOR LIFE” can’t really stick its landing either, providing little more than monotone beat and flow on top of a thoroughly off-putting verse from member rapper Merlyn Wood.

All things considered, BROCKHAMPTON’s fifth official body of work is a less catchy, less immediate, and less poppy affair than any of its predecessors. Perhaps it’s because it gestated throughout the course of a critical semi-hiatus during which members broke out and re-settled as separate-joint units. It is also the group’s shortest statement to date, and one that generally is less sticky, out-there and in your face, for better or worse. Yet, with this one, most rappers and producers within the BROCKHAMPTON pantheon truly started to gain both access and dwelling rights to their true elevated creative element, cranking out songs that are amongst the band’s best and most maturely sincere. On here, pure initial traces of timeless boy band-level pop songwriting are also finally starting to emerge, suggesting an overall refinement of their authorship skills now yielding riper, more self-aware, and enduring results. In spite of what anyone else had you believe with their Saturation saga or even iridescence, GINGER is BROCKHAMPTON’s real coming-of-age record.

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

BROCKHAMPTON

“GINGER”

2019, Question Everything Inc./RCA Records

http://www.brckhmptn.com

BH_Ginger

ON THEM 777 FLIGHTS WITCHA | 2018-10-26

Sometimes cross-channel influence, cognitive association, and topical inspiration can strike from the weirdest, strangest angles in life, working perhaps in a subliminally unconscious way yet yielding their initial igniting spark when one least expects it. While I’m not really here looking for interpretation or struggling for inherent meaning of what I’m about to stipulate, it’s true that to many a readers this pairing of sorts will appear rather odd, as if permeating through the meanders of algorithmically computed processes. First things first. There is a visual album by Frank Ocean called Endless, his third music project overall, that was released in August 2016 as his last commitment with Def Jam Recordings so as to ingeniously fulfil his recording contract with the Universal Music-owned hip-hip imprint, shortly before dropping his highly-anticipated and critically acclaimed official second studio LP Blonde. Overlooking for a moment the scope of the very query beyond what the hell a visual album even is in the first place in today’s creative industries, Endless was initially distributed exclusively through Apple Music as an on-demand streaming-only 45-ish-minute video, before getting the sound recording re-issue makeover earlier in April this very year. The thing is, throughout its artistic and sonic existence, Frank’s audiovisual art piece always and forever existed in the shadow of his companion major album release and, needless to say, hitherto lived a life of critical overlooking and unwilling negligence.

I’d hate to be that guy, but this wasn’t the case for yours truly, who sincerely immediately connected with the boundary-pushing flair of the project’s experimentation, and almost continuously and consistently rated it above its sister (or perhaps, mother) marquee summer drop Blonde, the latter promoted and sponsored by antiquated industry ideas and appraisal canons supposedly ascribing what kind of attributes an album ought to have in order to be even considered as such. Speaking of reviewing conventions, and calling for a need of scrutinising standards, the auditory experience of Endless clocks in at about 40 minutes and change in length and, depending on which specific rendition one might be referring to, rocks about 20 quote-unquote cuts, ranging literally from atomised skits of a handful seconds to techno-reprises of intense seven minutes. What’s very interesting about this album is that it contains a special song entitled “Sideways”, sitting idle at number thirteen on my version of the track list, glowingly melting in a gorgeous fashion between crystal acoustic gem “Slide On Me” and choir-fuelled celestial “Florida”. Also, it’s interesting and noteworthy here to point out, in light of future revelations further down the piece, how the number thirteen is often viewed as carrying bad luck connotations by many superstitious cultures the world over and, more importantly, believe it or not many commercial airlines avoid its numbered seating row onboard their planes, out of that same superstition affinity. The track was crafted by London-based electronic music artist and sound engineer Vegyn, although further production handling on the song is credited to NY-based experimental glitch artist Nolife, who allegedly worked on the track with Frank himself while he was a temporary resident of New York City’s Mercer Hotel, even though he might as well have paid the whole mortgage for what he was spendingWhat I’ll do next is providing you with the full transcription of “Sideways”‘s lyrics, as a deep courtesy of genius.com:

[Verse]
I was in all them hours in it
10K, tokin’ mid strokes
Prime prime time of my life witcha
Puttin’ prime numbers up though
On them 777 flights witcha
Take a shower with it, gotta cleanse it
Keep the safety off innit
Now we finna have a mini
Outta wedlock, God forgive it
Then forget it
‘Cause only God can forget it
All this hotel living
Might as well pay the mortgage what I’m spending
Said the dick long as a swan neck
Put some real swans in the pond then
Fell asleep in the foreign
After the free show at the Garden
Let the LED roll, deer hunter
Leave the stage, watch it from the audience
Bet we sell the bickets out next week
On me on, my bodness

[Outro]
When I’m up they gon’ hate
When I’m sideways, yeah, I set me straight
When I’m up they gon’ hate
When I’m down they gon’ celebrate
Sittin’ sideways, too sideways
Nah, it’s not too late

Bear with me as here comes my main point. So all the while relentlessly tasting and indulging in repeated heightened listening experiences of and with Endless and specifically “Sideways”, I somewhere, somehow, sensed a sensorially bridged journey onto a a Swedish internet-based service displaying real-time commercial aircraft flight information on geographical maps, named Flightradar24. This freemium software includes flight tracks, origins and destinations, flight numbers, aircraft types, positions, altitudes, headings and aerodynamic speeds on a global scale. For affluent paid users, it can also show time-lapse replays of previous tracks and historical flight data by airline, aircraft, aircraft type, area or airport. Weirdly, this web app has become one of my biggest life companions as of late, given my quasi-frequent flyer programme status, which led me to reply to pretty standard – “where are you?” – questions from acquaintances on the phone with a weighted average value answer of – “on a plane” – during the past three to six months. My point here though is that every time I listen to Endless’ thirteenth track, or conversely spend enough time on Flightradar24, I am intensely reminded of the other one object, as if connected by a dotted figurative line, respectively. Something about the transcendent epistemology of both cultural artefacts was pointing out their intrinsic correlation, beyond my grasping almost in an ontological manner.

Now, it’s probably worth spending a couple words on Flightradar24 and its life-saving servicing protocol – just mainly as a public service announcement – without which many a times my airmile consumption patterns would have turned out even more painful and dreary than what they actually were. Like that time were I was quicker than the actual airline ground crew themselves to spot the mysterious air location of the aircraft that was supposed to come pick us up from Milan Malpensa (MXP) and fly us all the way to Barcelona El Prat (BCN) on a late Sunday evening. Or, that other time at Stockholm Arlanda (ARN) airport, where the service helped me figure out how big the apparent official flight delay actually was IRL (I was once again flying to BCN that time), given the incoming airplane’s route and location (unsurprisingly, there was a delta of about one hour and a half. Oh, no, not that Delta, this delta). Or again, and this might be my favourite inclusive utilisation modality of them all, when I would sneakingly monitor the exact route and location of family and friends I was supposed to go pick up upon their arrival at their destination airport, everything logically unbeknownst to all of them. Trust me when I say that you’d be glad you’d have used Flightradar24 before leaving your house to the airport when the specific plane you’re waiting for accumulated a delay of 2+ hours at source. At this point – and I beg your pardon if this comes too late – I would also like to point out that this is not a paid promotion advertorial in any shape or form whatsoever, but rather just an earnest and sincere shout out to not only an excellent travel companion, but also a subliminal Frank Ocean reference item.

You people have to trust me that the fact that this piece comes out into the Interweb on the very immediacy of Frank’s 31st birthday (he was born on 28th October 1987) is honestly a pure alignment of the stars coincidence, or perhaps yet another symbolic semantical component in the bigger meaningful design floating between 1) an Endless audiovisual art experience, 2) a software-as-a-service platform monitoring worldwide air traffic, and 3) a grander scheme of flight journeys. However, recently something perhaps too minuscule to itemise was able to cut through the reality distortion fielded mould and hit me with a sudden illuminating epiphany. I decided to get rid of all existing preconceived notions and mental conjectures that were supporting my struggle for meaning up until that point. Suddenly, I got it all. I got the apparent reason for the metaphysical connection between “Sideways” and Flightradar24, now all of a sudden so clear and yet at the same time always so latent throughout my consumption history with the New York City-nursed composition of 1:54 minutes. While it’s extremely hard to precisely and tangibly put a finger on it, at the end of the day it all has to do with Frank being my flight companion and travelling the world with me on airplanes. At first it might deceivably seem that a single line out of “Sideways”‘s lyrics score sheet could be the key to the mystery kingdom surrounding the opacity of such an obscure symbiotic and visceral connection, however upon closer inspection, it quickly becomes clear that there is so much more to it than simply those five words.

Frank Ocean has actually always been the high-mile flight travel companion one would and should wish for (or is it Tyler Durden?), and he knew about Flightradar24 even before the Swedish folks who spun up and deployed its first source code of the beta software version knew about it. He was there ever since the free show at the Garden, when Kanye West introduced the idea of a living-breathing and upgrading album project to a puzzled and denying music business and mainstream press scene, at the time more concerned with his unbearable production delays in dropping the record and the elevated unpredictability surrounding his whole artist persona – an aspect notoriously shared with Frank Ocean himself – than the actual creative content embedded in the TLOP (w)rapper altogether. In a way, with Endless Frank followed Kanye’s advice, taking up the teachings of the grand master, in that he not only updated sonic and production elements of the original audiovisual album on the go, but effectively warped the whole nature of the artefact turning it into a CD-quality like studio album two years after its first release as a visual album. Very similarly, Flightradar24 tracks and updates flight movements on the fly across the world’s skies, no pun intended, drawing yet another parallel with the epitome of real-timeness which is the aural meditative immersion encapsulated in the minute and fifty-four seconds and the twenty-seven verses of “Sideways”, by Frank Ocean.

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

AV

Flightradar24