We all know the feeling—you hear about a movie or a band, or hear a word for the first time and suddenly you start seeing and hearing about it everywhere. You think “how have I gone all my life without knowing about this unbelievably popular thing?” This phenomenon is rampant in the world of music, especially in this day and age of the internet, and perhaps no artist better epitomizes this secret yet mythic status of fame quite like indie darling (Sandy) Alex G. Your parents probably have never heard of him—but that coworker or person in your class who always wears indie band shirts? That person definitely has. In a 2014 article, far prior to the release of what would come to be his most popular work, music publication The Fader referred to Alex G as “the internet’s secret best songwriter,” a title which arguably still proves accurate. Even today, as he gains semi-mainstream success, these DIY underground roots are essential to his musical identity. In his most recent release, House of Sugar, Alex G has continued to reap the benefits of his initial cult-sensation beginnings, even amidst branching out, exploring and conquering sonic territories in ways that most other indie artists have yet to even approach.
(Sandy) Alex G, born Alex Giannascoli, raised about 20 minutes outside Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where he began making music with his parents’ Apple computer and recorded his first EP “baby songs” in 1997 at the age of 4. Alex G would later continue his musical journey in high school where he would experiment in several musical styles, one of which would result in his high school band The Skin Cells.
The exploratory nature of Alex G’s earlier adolescent musical escapades would later result in a musical style that blends together DIY lo-fi indie rock and folk with electronic, industrial and even country elements. Following the release of Alex G’s initial 2010–2012 EP’s on bandcamp, popularity followed a somewhat typical DIY trajectory, spreading mostly through music blogs and word of mouth. In 2016, he gained significant recognition in the music world for working with Frank Ocean, providing both guitar parts and arrangements on Ocean’s seminal albums Endless and Blonde. In 2017, Alex G made waves with the release of his second studio album for Domino Records, Rocket, which received wide critical acclaim for its cocktail blend of washy, ephemeral, Sparklehorse-esque indie rock with a distinct Americana twang.
In House of Sugar, Alex G follows a similar artistic trajectory. The strange, ethereal, low wattage folksiness is not lost—but it is more focused, deliberate, almost tangible. He has taken his formula and narrowed it down to a science. This is perfectly exemplified in one of the album’s singles, “Southern Sky,” a warm, rustic, swaying ballad that would easily feel at home on Rocket. Yet, perhaps unlike his last release, House of Sugar is notably darker than most of the music he has released thus far. We are given a glimpse into this in the song “Gretel,” ostensibly hinting at the famous fairy tale “Hansel and Gretel.” In this, he presents us with a scene that is sweet, yet simultaneously somewhat nefarious feeling. He also does not shy away from a healthy degree of creative experimentation, as shown by the airy, synth-laden “Project 2.” These are contrasted with the song “Hope,” which plainly and openly displays familiar feelings of grief, opening with “He was a good friend of mine / He died / Why I write about it now / Gotta honor him somehow.” These grim, emotionally transparent lyrics contrast starkly with a far more buoyant and upbeat instrumental track. These are the ways in which House of Sugar excels—it is an emotional rollercoaster, not one thing but a thousand things, sometimes all at once.
(Sandy) Alex G has always been something of a phenomenon. In a song from his new album, titled “Cow” he sings “You big old cow / you draw me out / lie on the ground / kiss on the mouth.” It feels safe to say that few other artists could sing such a line and have it not only be something that can be taken seriously, but could be unironically described as beautiful. Yet, this has always been a strong suit of his. Throughout his career, many of his most poignant songs work this way, masking a feeling of sincere bittersweet melancholy with a surface level goofiness. Yet, in these songs, these two feelings are not separate from one another. If anything, he excels in characterizing the realism of human emotion through his music. His music feels the way life often does—not simply sad, lonely, happy, or nostalgic, but some fuzzy, soupy amalgamation of different, sometimes contradicting emotions. In this, we are offered a window not only into his life, but also into our own.