The musician (Sandy) Alex G is haunted.
He is when he picks up a guitar, at least. His latest record, House of Sugar, dwells on a sweet, melting memory of a place and time that pulls us back at the expense of the moment. The taste lingers. It’s easy to fall in love with the memory of seemingly simpler times.
“I don’t wanna go back,” sings Alex Giannascoli, (Sandy) Alex G’s birth name, on the song “Gretel.” “Nobody’s gonna push me off track. I see what they do -— good people got something to lose.”
But he trudges onward. House of Sugar eloquently captures a moment of defiance against that call. “I think that everyone can relate to that feeling of being haunted by something,” Giannascoli says. “That’s really what I wanted to capture.”
House of Sugar marks Giannascoli’s third LP for Domino Records and eighth overall. Making good use of Domino’s reach and influence, Giannascoli’s musical presence has grown over the decade from internet following to global footprint. Plus, Domino has helped give Giannascoli a more holistic view of the business.
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“With [first Domino release] Beach Music, I didn’t anticipate a music video or press pictures,” Giannascoli says. “I had no idea what to do about that. Now that I know how it works, I can anticipate and seek out people that are suited to my taste.”
Giannascoli’s critical mass in recent years is perhaps best exemplified by his presence on Frank Ocean’s Blonde, which Pitchfork named the album of the decade. When asked about his contribution, Giannascoli laughs. “That would be very self-indulgent of me,” he says. “Without me, it would have been equally as good. It’s just guitar.”
Giannascoli’s dismissal sells his craft criminally short. Each of his albums in recent memory has played host to a unique structure that is reflective more of life than art. His approach encapsulates our modern times of scattered notions and disjoint character studies. Many albums (Blonde included) have followed suit. In ending House of Sugar with a live track, Giannascoli bends his narrative form further to break the fourth wall completely.
“I was listening a lot to Neil Young’s Harvest Moon, which has live tracks mixed in with the studio recordings,” Giannascoli says. “I feel like they made it more cohesive in a way. It kind of makes the album more meta or something. I wanted a live track to allow the listener to step outside of the universe of the studio recordings. It’s like the ending credits.”
Time passes, and Giannascoli’s horizon only grows in scope and vision. “Sandy” might take his name from an older Alex G song, sung from a teenage perspective, but the man behind the songs only becomes more engaging as the years go by.
“I’m trying to be as honest with myself as possible,” Giannascoli says. “Once you start to become responsible, you realize what a piece of shit you are. That’s part of becoming an adult — realizing that no one is good, but that everyone is trying.”
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“Gretel” ends with a twist on the refrain. “I don’t wanna be this,” Giannascoli sings. “Good people gotta fight to exist.” That fight, as Giannascoli explains, is the fight with impulse.
“Our whole lives are driven by impulse,” Giannascoli says. “There are periods where we think we have clarity, but in truth, given our circumstances, we are just acting impulsively where we are.”
That struggle, standing firm against impulse or giving in, is the story of our lives. And as long as we have Giannascoli to bottle the experience, we’ll have a friend on the journey.
(Sandy) Alex G is scheduled to perform Friday, October 25, at The Nile Theater. Tickets are $18 via Eventbrite.