(Sandy) Alex G

House of Sugar

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For his third Domino Records release and ninth album in total, lo-fi pop experimenter (Sandy) Alex G (Alex Giannascoli) presents House of Sugar. The multifaceted title is, for one, a reference to the SugarHouse Casino in Philadelphia, which features in the album's closing track. It also refers to the Grimm fairy tale alluded to in "Gretel," and to the short story "The House Made of Sugar" by Silvina Ocampo, a supernatural tale rooted in superstition and deceit. The layered meanings of the title mirror the complex musical design of House of Sugar, Giannascoli's densest and most detail-oriented release to date. While 2017's Rocket saw the songwriter/GarageBand recordist working with an expanded guest list including touring bandmembers for the first time, House of Sugar involved recording collaborations on some songs with his mixer, Jacob Portrait, at Portrait's Brooklyn studio -- Giannascoli's first excursion to an outside studio. In addition to splurging on a new microphone and recording-software upgrade at home, Giannascoli has said that he worked more deliberately on this album, spending more time on fewer songs than ever before. House of Sugar's sound is more vivid and elaborate, as becomes apparent on the experimental opening track, "Walk Away." At over four minutes, it's the longest track on the record and arguably its least coherent; its suffocating, kitchen-sink approach includes rhythmically organized layers of irregular, circular vocals, guitars, booming drums, and much more. If intended to reset ears for increased demands, those demands are soon alleviated with the tuneful, melancholy pop of "Hope" and "Southern Sky." Even a song like "Hope," ultimately an acoustic rhythm guitar tune, holds added textures, however, among them multiple vocal tracks, strings, and spacey organ. House of Sugar gets increasingly otherworldly with the manipulated, child-like voices and ghostly, dissonant effects of "Gretel" and the meticulously trippy "Near." Later, processed, robotic vocals and bagpipe-like harmonic overtones mark the eerie noise experiments of the plodding "Sugar." An entry like "Sugar" is outnumbered by but adds weight to the lighter pop songs on the album, though "light" here is a relative term. As if to bring his audience back to Earth, the album closes with the spare "Crime" and wistful live track "SugarHouse," which ends with the lyrics: "Let 'em bury me in the sand/When our children go digging for answers/I hope they can put me together again." Intimate, theatrical, and strange, House of Sugar is designed to reward repeat listens, but like other (Sandy) Alex G sets, it's immediately affecting.

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