An Impressionistic Ranking of Alex G by Clara Christopher
Part I (of IV): Rocket
The first Alex G song I ever heard was "Bobby", from his latest album Rocket. I was instantly drawn in: it was a soulful folk song that reminded me of childhood visits to rural Pennsylvania every Easter during the spring, and it resonated so deeply that I plunged into his older albums and interviews, eager for more.
This dark-featured skater kid had a rare appeal: he started making music in his bedroom as a student at Temple University, just outside of Philadelphia, and despite his contempt for self promotion, he garnered an underground following. From his lyrics to his album art, Alex G was bare bones. He didn't affect any pretense about his musical genius or personal impact, and his presence was brutally honest, mirroring classic solo artists, like Joni Mitchell and Nick Drake.
Though he reminds me of 60’s artists, he’s often compared to indie rock artists from the 90’s, like Elliott Smith. He’s notorious for writing simple but obscure song narratives, using a cast of recurring characters, like Harvey and Sandy. His music is steady, quiet, and understated, featuring smooth wanderings into emotive guitar solos. It’s characterized by sleepy moods that are filled with stretches of mellowed-out melancholia, occasionally flooded by heartfelt desire, hopefulness, and campy sing-along choruses.
In 2017, he released Rocket , his most eclectic work yet. It showcases his broad ranging talent, delving into every genre from screamo to folk. It’s a soul-cleansing album, alive with catchy melodies and fraught with dark, almost inscrutable lyrics that somehow resonate.
Here, I review each song on the album. Read on to find out my rating of the work as a whole, as well as my two personal favourite tracks.
"Poison Root" kickstarts the album with bracing alacrity. It’s a folk song held together by steady acoustic strumming and enlivened by fitful violin playing. Its elliptical lyrics, which tell the story of a knowledge-bestowing root, build a special insularity, elaborated by Alex G’s sonorous, almost baritone, singing voice.
Proud could be taken for Alex G’s most bright-eyed, optimistic song, if it weren’t for the twist in the second verse. At first, a ‘star’ is lauded for his strength and authenticity. In the second verse, the same person is scorned for his charlatanism and ruthlessness. The heart of the song lies in the chorus, where the narrator professes his disquietude about establishing himself while needing to provide for loved ones.
"County" tells a short story about a more or less innocent kid who winds up in the county jail, where he witnesses a cell mate overdose. The song ends on a satirical note, acknowledging his fans’ appetite for stories of senseless tragedy.
Bobby is a spirited pop-folk song with refreshingly open-hearted lyrics. It features violinist, Molly Germer, the singer songwriter’s girlfriend. It’s a simple narrative about a forlorn soul who longs for someone she isn’t with. In the end, she expresses her willingness to leave her brutish partner, Bobby, for another love.
"Witch" is a song about an outcast. It features steady clapping paired with eerie, fleeting atmospheric sounds, as well as the incantation ‘no matter what you do, the witch burns you.’ The song is as mystical as it is ominous.
"Horse" is an instrumental track, reminiscent of an Old Western film. It’s chaotic and rushing sound creates a foreboding feeling, which heightens toward the end of the song. It’s the perfect lead into the ultimate breakdown that takes place during Brick .
"Brick" might be one of Alex G’s least expected tracks, diving headlong into screamo territory. Shouting emerges from manic, splitting guitar, and it’s carried along by an underlying hip hop beat. The track sounds like it was recorded just outside someone’s garage, emboldening the theme of alienation between dishonest lovers.
"Sportstar" forges into new territory as well, offering a clean electronic sound mixed with underwater-like, echoing voice distortions reminiscent of Frank Ocean’s album, Blonde.
In "Judge", we see an explicit thematic tie to the last track on the album, "Guilty". It’s a punk rock song, built up by erratic bells that ultimately foment a confession. In the beginning, he tries to figure out what drove a love away, then he slips into ignorant, cold dismissal of the beloved’s departure. The song ends with an admission that he is, in fact, guilty.
Though "Rocket" won the album title, the song itself is discreet, placed in the middle of the album. It’s purely instrumental, but it has a distinctly celebratory, anticipatory mood that aligns perfectly with the song name.
"Powerful Man" is a folk song that culminates in explosive violin shredding, eventually collapsing into white noise. It tells a story of family dysfunction and abuse, and it ends with the boy’s fantasies about being a boundlessly powerful man.
"Alina" might slip your notice on the first play of the album, because it’s a soft track that lulls you into a reflective state. The lyrics are as unsettling as they are whimsical, telling the story of a girl named Alina who leaves school, claiming to be sick, only to go home and binge eat sugary foods. In a subtle way, this song embodies a mood that is central to Alex G’s music: a languishing state, slipping away from structured normalcy into hopelessness and base instinct.
"Big Fish" has a soft, sad sound that belies its subject. It’s about a young man who is dissociating from his father and wandering off into a fantastical, haunted world in which he catches a monkey on a rod and boils him up to eat.
"Guilty" is the sing-along song and cumulation of the album. It’s a five minute long conscience call, filled with saxophone and jazzy undertones.
My Rating: 8.2/10
My Two Favourite Tracks: