Powerful Rocket Man
Alex Giannascoli has made a name for himself as a modern day Elliot Smith and it’s easy to see why. His lo-fi, homemade recordings have gotten him pretty far, and, under his official moniker (Sandy) Alex G, he recently released Rocket, his most collaborative album yet.
Rocket is probably (Sandy) Alex G’s most impressive album to date, featuring folk, jazz and grunge-inspired tracks that are both haunting and hopeful. Giannascoli enlisted violinist Molly Germer and guest vocalist Emily Yacina for both inspiration and collaboration, which really opened up his genre entirely. And while the sound quality still comes off as though it was produced in an intimate setting, there’s a maturity to Rocket that really makes the album come alive.
Tracks like “Country” and “Guilty” are strongly jazz-influenced both in rhythm and instrumentation. They’re standouts in an album of primarily straightforward indie folk. “Poison Root,” the album opener, sets the stage for a backyard performance, complete with dog barks, banjo, violin and piano. “Proud” is a real foot-stomper with that straightforward rhythm. He sings through his teeth, “If I sing / I don’t wanna be the one to leave my baby out with no bottle to drink,” perhaps commenting on his childhood, growing up in Pennsylvania. “Country” is dreamy and winding, featuring a walking bass line and jazzy guitar solo that are almost a little too stripped for comfort, until the piano lends itself again along with the vocals. “Bobby” picks up the banjo again and features harmonizing vocals from Yacina that complement Giannascoli’s authentic, country-boy sound with ease, set to a melody that’s unique and catchy as the fiddle plays along.
“Horse” and “Brick” lie in the middle of the album and are the grungiest of the lot. In “Brick,” Giannascoli screams into the mic, laden with heavy bass and distortion reminiscent of the Korn era. “Sportstar” is another standout, featuring an auto-tuned Giannascoli with piano at the forefront in pentatonic fashion. “I wanna be a star like you / wanna make something that’s true,” he sings, bringing to mind his outsider youth. “Judge” is most reminiscent of (Sandy) Alex G’s earlier work on Beach Music and is full of darkness and angst. “Powerful Man” features acoustic guitar and more of that fiddle, as Giannascoli paints a picture of his family upbringing through his hopeful lyrics, “And when I look you in the eye / you’re gonna tell me that you love me and hold me tight / cause you know that I have no fear / ain’t gonna walk into the river and disappear/ I’m gonna be a powerful man / red blood running down the broken sand.” “Alina” is minimal in style with a pleasing chromatic line in the piano. “Big Fish” is soft and slow, with gentle surprises along the way; it’s practically the spitting image of something Elliot Smith would write. “Guilty” then closes the album on a jazzy, upbeat note. It’s a favorite amongst a strong album, mainly due to the pleasing guitar licks and saxophone solos. It seems quite ambitious for an artist like Giannascoli, but just goes to show, again, how far (Sandy) Alex G has come, and just how far it can go.
There’s an authenticity to Rocket that’s sure to win fans over. What’s truly great about this album is that there’s a lot to unpack, making the listener want to dive in again and again to take it all in. Giannascoli is clear and confident in his choices and isn’t afraid of taking risks this time around.