Review Summary: I won't be forgotten/I hope they can put me together again
Fragments rarely work together, or rather, only a handful of people know how to make them work in harmony. My friend had this very old and faded polaroid photo laying around her room, it wasn’t framed, nor it seemed to have been placed there with any particular purpose or special care, it really was, as I just mentioned, laying there. And you see, this shocked me because my obsessive persona couldn’t fathom the thought of having this snapshot, fragment of a time long gone, not being properly taken care of, let alone not being displayed. For her, it was different, being probably nothing more than just that, a childhood picture, very much engrained in her memory for the rest of time without having to ever look at it again; as she spoke of it fondly but without sharing my concern, it then made sense. The polaroid depicted a ghostly and ethereal scene, it was composed of two different images that got overlapped at the time of developing, faded childlike figures in a dim living room while a magnificent cathedral and its surroundings stood right behind them. For all I know it could have been anyone/anywhere, it matter very little, for the image was itself a gorgeous and surreal blend of shapes and colors now deeply embed in my mind; earlier that day I had another serendipitous experience, which culminated in a similar realization, when I was listening to the fragmented House of Sugar.
With almost a decade after he first ventured with his music on BandCamp, this story is my best attempt at describing his latest output. As it happens that, throughout its thirteen tracks, House of Sugar manages to draw from everything he’s done and tried and build from it, from his early self-published recordings, to rare cuts floating around the web uploaded by close friends and strangers who managed to get a hold on to the songs, all whilst Giannascoli just dives deeper into the semi-fictional, yet mundane, world he laid the foundations for.
Thinking back I should have probably learned to avoid a common mistake when I initially heard Rocket, that is, setting up expectations as to in which direction the singer-songwriter should take his craft: “he should have changed the sequence”, “this needs another fleshed out jam like the one on Snot”, “dude, just cut it with the pointless interludes”. Aware of his humble background, and the home he eventually found in Domino Records, I also wondered when he’d come out with his own overly ambitious project, think the highly lauded Teens of Denial or even the more subdued, laid- back, and hyperboled Lush, in my opinion this was what Alex had been missing and what set him apart from the widespread recognition he deserves outside of internet circles. A thought as naïve as thinking he’s just Elliot Smith for zoomers or just another Pavement worshiper with the right set of tools; luckily, as soon the entrancing opener Walk Away ended I realized how wrong I’d been.
In what seems like a daunting task, it is actually only a small handful of themes, some of which Alex has explored before, that hold the vast array of sounds found on House of Sugar, all without ever feeling forced or misplaced. Fame, greed, addiction, overindulgence, and the endless possibilities of adult life, viewed through the lenses of gambling and wager, a motif to which Alex alludes in the very title, the SugarHouse is an old casino located in the singer’s native Philly. It is also worth pointing out the, now more developed, authentic nature that irradiates from the characters that portray these stories, like it’s happened on all his records the line between fact and fiction gets muddied, as a result these folks become more tangible and comprehensive, to a point where narrator and listener become another part of the colorful bunch.
All things considered, it seems Alex very much really did hit the jackpot upon the making of Sugar, because if viewed on paper, half of the ideas sprawled on its short runtime shouldn’t work together, and yet, he managed to make his most cohesive and strongest record since 2014’s trippy, and also disjointed, DSU. His tricks and quirks are all prevalent, you know, the off-putting voice alterations and the multi-tracking, coalescing sharp and delicate guitar tones, occasional and well executed lush arrangements, menacing and obscure lyrics sung over gorgeous harmonies, and an extended cast of faceless, flawed, and anonymous protagonists, who probably draw as much from you as from our narrator, and our collective minds.
Once again, everything that has made (Sandy) Alex G an indie darling resides in House of Sugar, newcomers will be in for a treat while most fans will find may things to cherish, it’s all here. Stripped back number, Hope, recalls to the somber and lethargic refrains of Gnaw from his first LP, it is Sugar’s only moment of grief, narrating its most intimate story while somehow making it every listener’s personal tragedy. Then there’s single Gretel, with it’s dreamy and punchy atmosphere not too farfetched from DSU, had it had a bigger budget, it invites you to close your eyes and enjoy the rest of ride. Even the alt-country vibe that permeated Rocket, also finds its way on Bad Man and Crime; and, out of the more instrumental takes, it is Sugar, the one that prevails as the most daring and experimental, without ever sacrificing nothing in return. The albums highest points pretty much englobe one of Alex’s best strengths, the replay value, hazy ballad Southern Sky flows beautifully, as fellow musician Emily Yacina makes, once again, another outstanding appearance, while Taking, like many other of Alex’s gems ends too abruptly leaving you pondering whether that’s a good or bad thing but making it not any less enjoyable. There is no doubt that this album will mark a turning point for (Sandy) and everyone who’s been with, hell, I can already hear astounding tributes of the acoustic “Cow” with multitudes of heartfelt teens singing: “I never loved nobody the way that I love you”.
House of Sugar plays its final notes and I can’t help but to think back to my friend’s overlapped picture and the many stories that I attach my own experience to, the ones that haven’t happened yet, but swear that eventually will, and everything that strikes me as familiar, when in reality, it is distant and foreign, because that seems to be the same universe where most of Alex’s music takes place. The creatures that inhabit said universe of off kilter indie-folk are familiar and palpable, and yet, just as you start to feel connected, they just vanish, and, in what’s probably for the best, remain nameless. Now I don’t want to sound contrived or over analytical, as Alex, certainly, doesn’t ever want to reach that critical depth when he creates these tunes, but in our modern musical landscape, filled with De-Marco-core bands spawning like rabbits, and the sappy and self-indulgent dream pop bedroom acts, among other trends that simply aren’t cutting it anymore, Giannascoli has built himself a sweet spot where, even if he now broke out outside the BandCamp leagues, he’s too far gone to be defined or limited by people’s expectations (including legions of fans), and where no one but him is setting the course into the unknown. It seems obvious, really, that after all the scattered-brain and over the place approach to the songs themselves, the record ends with a live rendition of SugarHouse, it sounds warm and charming, and the intimacy it reaches makes it feel as if Alex is singing in front of all the characters that plague his stories, perhaps to himself: “you never really met me, I don’t think anyone has, but we could still be players together, let SugarHouse pick up the tab”. In such an artistic fashion, it feels as if he’s giving each and everyone a chance for closure, an opportunity to take a profound look at themselves, perhaps reach some sort of redemption, after all, our stories aren’t over.