'House of Sugar': Alex G showcases selfishness on eighth album
On “House of Sugar,” Alex Giannascoli’s, better known as Alex G's, eighth studio album, and his third album since signing to Domino Recording Company, the celebrated do-it-yourself (DIY) indie artist shines at his brightest.
His most complex collection of songs yet, Alex G embraces his folk and neo-psychedelia sounds and sharpens them into something that rings brutally honest.
The record displays Alex G at his most willing to experiment with his established sound, with stylistic production choices and delicate arrangements that exhibit an emotional and wonky stream of consciousness. This is most notable through the album’s strange flow, which is seemingly divided into three parts.
The first stretch of the album features Alex G’s grandest and most polished songs to date. “Walk Away” serves as an atmospheric entrance to the project, with layered production of flowing synths, guitars, obscured vocals and compressed drums.
“Hope” is a melancholic, pristine ode to his friend who’d passed from overdosing on fentanyl. Containing angelic synths, melodic guitars and a warm bass synth line, Alex G sings about hope, or the lack thereof. “Southern Sky” is a dreamy folk song that features glimmering pianos and strings, sonically not too far off from a track off of Sufjan Steven’s famous “Illinois” album.
“Gretel” serves as the centerpiece of “House of Sugar,” instrumentally and lyrically. The first and main single released to promote the album, the 3-minute track feels colossal in emotional weight, credited to the song’s haunting instrumentation and lyrical themes drawn from the Brothers Grimm tale, "Hansel and Gretel."
Here, Alex G is at his most transparent, and his metaphorical study of human selfishness and overindulgence is a compelling example of humanist pessimism.
The following track, “Taking,” resolves the gloom of the previous track with mellow lo-fi indie instrumentation, featuring Elliott Smith-esque guitar playing, cozy synths and airy vocals.
The middle section of the album holds together a string of sonic vignettes. The tracks from “Near” to “Sugar” are easily the least conventional songs on the album, as well as the shortest.
“Near” features the distinct words “All I want is to be near you,” with “you” repeating over with emphasis, on top of a frantic rhythm that communicates anxiety and despair. “Project 2,” an instrumental track, is Alex G’s take on more experimental electronic music, with an irregular drum pattern and layered harmonizing synths that come and go unexpectedly.
“Bad Man” features twangy vocals from Alex G, cryptically singing about selfishness (again) and bomb raids. “Sugar,” the final vignette in the album’s middle section, is a cinematic instrumental that features indecipherable altered vocals. The piano is suspenseful, and the orchestration adds tension.
The third and final stretch of the album echoes much of the humble indie-Americana music that is evident in his previous studio album, “Rocket.”
“In My Arms” continues the album’s lyrical themes of egocentrism and opportunism. “I take it in, I do without / I never care what we talk about.” “Cow” changes the tone, as it features more hopeful lyrics about a confession of love, even if he describes his love as a “big old cow” — maybe he’s being tongue-in-cheek.
“Crime” also has the lyrical themes of selfishness that exist throughout much of the album. On the track, he threatens to leave his love interest if he isn’t entertained and doesn’t get what he wants. “Careful what you do / Or I'm leaving without you.”
“SugarHouse," the closing track on the album that features live saxophone reminiscent of Clarence Clemons (of E Street Band fame), wraps up the lyrical matters of self-serving behavior and toxic relationships with an awakening of self-awareness.
“SugarHouse” is a casino in Alex G’s hometown of Philadelphia, and he compares keeping his true self and intentions concealed to the trickery of the games at his local casino. “You never really met me / I don't think anyone has / But we could still be players together / Let SugarHouse pick up the tab.”
“House of Sugar,” while impressive and abundant in creative ideas, does feel a bit unstructured in moments, and the middle stretch of sonic-vignettes may feel a little tedious and undercooked. The album is also quite a bit front-loaded musically, as the standout instrumentation is in the first stretch of the album.
But the feats outweigh the flaws, and the consistent lyricism makes the album Alex G’s most splendid and intimate project to date.
Best tracks: "Hope," "Southern Sky," "Gretel," "Cow"
Worst track: "Bad Man"
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