Singer-songwriter and Philly native Alex G embraces his DIY roots while showcasing a cohesive development in sound and concept on his eighth full-length release, Rocket. The album moves you through Alex G's musical and personal growth, engaging with usual sounds and subject matter. However, he uses his typical folksy riffs to introduce some atypical experimentation. His words draw circles around the human experience as he reflects on love, anxiety, and obsession, but the underlying story, as well as the noteworthy intrigue of the album, is realized in the exploratory musical practice taking place. As a whole, Rocket is unmistakably Alex G with his understated vocals, simple progressions, and genuine lyricism. But it is the bouts of restlessness, alternating between emotive indie and jumbled sonic expressionism, interspersed throughout the musical narrative, that make Rocket a standout album.
The first track features his signature brooding mumbles to the tune of a stylistically twangy piano-violin-banjo-acoustic guitar ensemble. He picks up the pace in “Proud” with his Elliott Smithly falsetto, poppy chord progression, and upbeat piano. “County” starts to delve into unfamiliar territory, featuring a soulful guitar solo joined with a whimsically sad organ, followed by the violin-carried duet, “Bobby”. With “Bobby”, Alex G polishes his traditionally lo-fi form with rich harmonies and sharp production.
“Witch” and “Horse” continue to call back on old Alex G, but with a fresh dose of abstraction; the acoustic guitar and keyboard play in frantic rhythm with a cavalcade of minor keys, obscure distortions, and eerie echoes, easing the album into its experimental phase. Ominous violins and muddled guitar strums lead us into “Brick”, a hardcore-influenced head-banger. He chants angsty lyrics like "I know that you're lying" over a fuzzy pulsating beat. “Sportstar” pays clear homage to Frank Ocean’s “Nikes”; After playing guitar on two of Ocean’s recent albums, the impact and appreciation can be traced throughout Rocket, but especially on this song. His auto-tuned voice perfectly mirrors Ocean’s on “Nikes”, not to mention the corresponding song titles. The next track, “Judge”, utilizes Alex G’s classic melodic patterns and folk-driven instrumentation, but his subtly pitched-down voice adds a layer of complexity and detachment from his earlier work.
The title track, “Rocket”, revisits the banjo to signify a regression, substantiated by the next song, “Powerful Man”, a folksy number about difficult family life, a subject that he has focused on in previous work. “Alina” and “Big Fish” expand on old themes and tunes with alluringly drawn-out vocals and hypnotic repetition. “Guilty” closes the album on a note that I can only describe as “hesitantly optimistic”. The rhythm is upbeat, the jazz interlude is funky, but there is an inescapable feeling of emptiness left with the listener. The paranoid sentiment juxtaposes the buoyant composition; he sings, "have you buried all the evidence of what you used to be?" Alex G rounds off Rocket the same way he started: collaborative instrumentals, solemn undertones, and vague yet biting lyrics. The circuitous nature of Rocket functions as a loose autobiography, treading familiar ground with some memorable twists in the road.