(Sandy) Alex G

There’s hardly a second when Alex Giannascoli’s voice can’t be heard in “Walk Away,” the opener of his
latest album,
House of Sugar
. The distended, pitched
-
up wail that introduces the track gives way to
cascading layers of his more familiar intonations. “Someday I’m gonna walk away from you,” he sings;
“not today.” These are the song’s only words, repeated again and again for more tha
n four minutes. In the
repetition, emphasis shifts from “someday” to “not today" and back, leaving the listener in a space of
uncertainty. It’s in this space that Giannascoli

the 26
-
year
-
old artist better known as (Sandy) Alex G

lingers throughout the albu
m’s thirteen songs: between backwards and forwards, past and future, one
voice and another. On
House of Sugar
, his third full
-
length for Domino and ninth overall, Alex inhabits a
diverse range of musical and emotional points
-
of
-
view (often simultaneously),
in turn illuminating the
tension that hides in the shadow of desire.

Giannascoli began writing these songs in the fall of 2017, having just finished a tour for
House of Sugar
’s
acclaimed predecessor,
Rocket
, and moved into a new apartment in Philadelphia
. Whereas with earlier
efforts, such as 2011’s self
-
released
Winner
or the landmark 2014 release
DSU
, he’d write numerous
songs fairly quickly, with
House of Sugar
Giannascoli worked at a steadier pace, concentrating on fewer
songs and laboring over each o
ne more than before.
After building the tracks at home, recording most of the guitars, keyboards, and vocals himself,
Giannascoli enlisted some recurring bandmates and collaborators to help realize further aspects of the
album: Samuel Acchione’s wailing e
lectric guitar on “Walk Away,” John Heywood’s bass underneath
“Taking,” Tom Kelly’s drums giving “Hope” its bounce, Molly Germer underscoring “Southern Sky” on
violin. Throughout the process Giannascoli worked closely with Jacob Portrait, who mixed both
Ro
cket
and its predecessor, 2015’s
Beach Music
, and here helped to balance each of
House of Sugar
’s dense,
multi
-
faceted tracks. As the product of extended focus and planning,
House of Sugar
emerges as
Giannascoli’s most meticulous, cohesive album yet: a sta
tement of artistic purpose, showing off his ear
for both persistent earworms and shifting textures.

Which is to say, “cohesive” doesn’t imply that
House of Sugar
dispenses with the out
-
there sonic
adventurism that’s made previous (Sandy) Alex G records so
singular. Giannascoli recorded with a clone
of the Neumann U87 microphone, built by Tom Kelly

the first time he’d ever used a microphone other
than the Samson Q1U USB mic that he got as a teenager. The new mic, coupled with an updated version
of Garageban
d that came with a replacement laptop, provided Giannascoli a new toolkit for home
-
recording, prompting him to analyze the types of sounds he’d been making and that he wanted to make.
In addition to bolstering the rich, polished mix of its rock
-
oriented so
ngs, the new equipment allowed for a
broad range of unique technical experiments that provide each track emotional and tonal complexity. This

includes not only the otherworldly vocals that haunt songs such as “Walk Away,” “Taking,” and “Bad
Man,” but also
the more subtle hums and echoes that texture “Hope” and “Gretel,” and the distorted
soundscapes into which listeners of “Sugar” and “Near” are immersed.

Throughout, the multiplicity of Giannascoli’s voice evokes the hybrid existence of a science
-
fiction
c
reature, at once human and
something else
. Indeed, in many ways, hybridity defines
House of Sugar
.
The lines between characters and narrators are perpetually blurry, allowing room for artist and listener
alike to move through the songs, to access their shi
fting headspaces.
On “Southern Sky”,
we hear a
voice other than Giannascoli’s own: frequent collaborator Emily Yacina, who sang on
Rocket
’s “Bobby,”
among other (Sandy) Alex G songs. The pair’s voices intertwine as they follow the track’s meandering
pathw
ay. Its steady country
-
rock bounce belies the extent to which “Southern Sky” changes as it flows
along

how it starts with a discordant piano run and ends with the lilting strum of a single acoustic guitar,
a disturbed (and unintentional) echo of Neil Young
’s “Harvest Moon.” The distinction between beginning
and end, at first concealed by a tight composition, is emblematic of the way
House of Sugar
works as a
whole: throughout the album Giannascoli makes you think that something is one way before revealing,
often almost imperceptibly

maybe not until it’s too late

that it’s probably another.
The stakes are often high in this regard. The dramatic action pose depicted on the album’s cover (as
always, painted by Giannascoli’s sister, Rachel) points to the feeli
ngs of precarity evoked within. Just as
the figure skater looks poised to either succeed or fall,
House of Sugar
’s characters are constantly
teetering on the edge of extremes, approaching either bliss or violence

unless it’s both at the same time.
They’re
manipulated (“Gretel”) and manipulative (“Crime”); up in the sky (“Sugar”) and buried in the dirt
(“Bad Man”). Caught in the ambiguous spaces of the songs,
House of Sugar
’s characters are disposed
toward the bad

“Music makes me wanna do bad things,” sings
Giannascoli on “In My Arms”

but
seemingly reaching for the good. Or, are they? Could bad
be
good, sweet be sour? While each track hints
at concrete situations derived from either Giannascoli’s life or a covert array of literary and filmic sources,
none exc
ludes a host of oppositional possibilities that listeners can generate and regenerate themselves.

The album’s final track, “SugarHouse,” opens with applause: it was recorded at a 2018 concert in St.
Louis, with a saxophone overdubbed later, the first time
Giannascoli has implemented a live recording on
a studio album. (In 2018, though, he released a
Live at Third Man Records
LP.) A brooding, flowing
anthem, “SugarHouse” shares its name with a casino not far from Giannascoli’s home in Philadelphia; as
the s
ong unfolds, the casino emerges as a suggestive site for the album as a whole. Its first verse echoes
the various moments when a
House of Sugar
protagonist realizes that highs are always temporary, that
what seems sweet often isn’t. “SugarHouse is calling
my bluff,” Giannascoli sings. But, in the second
verse, his character

unknown and broken

nevertheless professes faith in where he is and who he’s with. Nothing is definitive, but after thirteen songs of being split apart and spread around, through these
re
lationships, in the
House of Sugar
, he might finally be “put together again.”

ARTHUR

“Manic” is the only word Arthur gives to describe his mindset going into recording his debut album,
Woof Woof. An isolated year and a half spent in the woods of Delaware County, Pennsylvania, allowed
Arthur to channel that manic energy into nothing but
his most ambitious project yet, creating his own
world “inhabited by a religion of my own making, like I was in a cloud, or hell, or something. Searching
for charity and my own vision of morality.”
Gradyville, PA, where the album was recorded felt l
ike being trapped in time, trapped out of time
maybe. The recordings of phone calls and voice messages show a thin connection to the “real”
happenings happening separately from his recording studio/parents’ house, little portholes that gave
Arthur a disjoi
nted but needed view into what was going on outside of the constructed world of his
recording process.
Sometimes it is hard to give others a view into the micro
-
realities we create for ourselves while working
on the things we love, but Woof Woof is
an example of the slits in time and space that can transport the
consumer directly into the mindset of the creator.
This idea of a “place out of time” seems to follow Arthur, creating little bubbles of weird and eerie truth
that exist for only the people
experiencing it then and there, but with this album he has created a
physical representation of this skill, shedding the ephemeral nature of what it used to be. Now you can
carry a transporter to the liminal world of Arthur with you at all times.
Arthur
expands on this with this message to his listeners: “The best version of your reality is the one you
create, the best version of yourself is not the one that exists.”

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