His eighth full-length overall, Rocket arrives after a period of increased exposure for bedroom recordist and longtime self-releaser Alex Giannascoli. Then going by Alex G, he made his label debut (DSU) in 2014, then signed with Domino Records, which released Beach Music, an album that landed on Billboard's Heatseekers chart and made some high-profile best-of-2015 lists. R&B superstar Frank Ocean then invited Giannascoli to play on his 2016 LPs Endless and Blond. After announcing a rebranding to (Sandy) Alex G a month before its release in May 2017, Rocket follows these career markers with a perhaps surprising return to the self-produced, home-recorded method that made his reputation. He has remarked, though, that the experience with Ocean made him more open to collaboration, and he's joined here by touring bandmembers, longtime guest vocalist Emily Yacina, singer/violinist Molly Germer, and more. What hasn't changed is Giannascoli's genre-sampling approach, distinctively loose and intimate sound, and melodic inclinations.
The album opens with the sullen "Poison Root," which builds an acoustic clatter with guitar, banjo, piano, violin, and barking dogs while Giannascoli repeatedly mutters "Now I know everything." That sets up "Proud," a jaunty alt-country foot-tapper that's loaded with doublespeak like "I'm so proud of you/And everything that you do...I wanna be a fake like you/Walk around with rocks in my shoes." Later, "Sportstar" uses distorted vocals to portray a fan with an unhealthy obsession ("Let me wear your jersey/If you want to hurt me, hurt me"). Giannascoli has said that he wanted to populate the record with "characters that don’t know how crazy they are," and that instability is conspicuous early on. Stylistically, he takes on country again later with "Bobby," a duet with fiddle, guitars, and banjo. In contrast, "Brick" is a grungy punk tune, and "Witch" is a more keyboard-based psychedelic entry with mathy rhythms. There are a couple of instrumentals, too, including the experimental, dissonant "Horse." He's far from catering to the mainstream here, but through it all, the wistful chords and progressions that are such a trademark of his sound act as a sonic through-line. Also uniting the album are immediate, conversational vocals and, similarly, an impression that accompaniment is gathered in a circle playing along by ear. It all contributes to a recognizable sound that, despite having more players involved, sounds like (Sandy) Alex G in the way that one of his primary influences, Elliott Smith, always sounded like himself. It'll be interesting to see how much he does or doesn't change up his process over time, but in the meantime, Rocket will likely be a welcome return for fans of Beach Music and beyond.