Before his newest album came out in October, Alex Giannascoli told Vice: “The older I get, the more I see through my own pretension. It’s going to probably take me longer and longer the older I get[…] You just get older and wiser and see your own bullshit.”
Alex Giannascoli, a.k.a. singer/songwriter (Sandy) Alex G, has been making music for quite some time and has amassed a cult following. Not only has he released eight albums since 2010, but he also has a ton of unreleased music on Youtube and Bandcamp. After high praise on his 2017 album Rocket, there was a lot of pressure on Giannascoli for House of Sugar.
(Sandy) Alex G has an aptitude for making songs that make your heart ache with narrative lyrics. Each song tells a different story, often using names in titles for each character he creates. He uses this style to explore the good and bad of people. The potent nostalgia and sadness leaves each song shrouded in mystery.
“Hope” was released as the second single and gives us perhaps the closest thing we have to a personal experience from Alex G. He describes a friend of his who died from a drug overdose in their home on Hope Street. In his hometown of Philadelphia, Hope Street exists in the neighborhood of Kensington, which is known for having some of the highest rates of heroin use in the United States.
“Gretel” was the first single released and it draws from the fairytale of Hansel and Gretel. Alex G starts the song off with “It’s calling me back / house of sugar,” referring to Gretel’s grim fate after she could not escape the house. Ending the song with “good people gotta fight to exist,” he contemplates how hard it is to stay good, an idea that flows through many (Sandy) Alex G songs.
Technically speaking, Gianniscoli continues to explore pitch shifting and layering in his music. The repetition in “Walk Away,” “Taking” and “Near” is a familiar idea with him, but is now elevated on House of Sugar. In the past, these techniques came across as more unpolished and exploratory. Now, he has managed to refine and use the technique as part of his storytelling. The repetition of “Walk Away” includes the lyrics “I’m gonna walk away from you, not today… someday,” where he implies how hard it can be to walk away from something bad.
House of Sugar brings in some new experimental music from Giannascoli that strays from his usual style but stays true to the textures of his past music. “Project 2” and “Sugar” are less of an “easy-listen,” but they provide an interesting contrast to his other songs on the album.
“In My Arms” comes in as the main love song of the album. In the style of some of Giannascoli’s first albums, the song maintains a simple chord progression with spiraling lyrics as the character contemplates the story of their love for someone.
“Bad Man” includes Giannascoli taking on a southern accent and a sinister tone. Country music and culture seem to be making a comeback in the world with artists like Lil Nas X, Kacey Musgraves and Mason Ramsey gaining popularity in the past two years.
Giannascoli drops the famous pan flute piano sound that can be heard on older tracks like “Sarah” for a more serious grand piano tone on “SugarHouse.” The live version– recorded at a show in St. Louis, Missouri– is the album closer.
House of Sugar includes classic (Sandy) Alex G elements like pitch shifting, repetition and lyrics that tell individual stories. He is still focused on the line between good and bad, with characters on the album struggling to break from the bad habits of drug addiction and gambling. On his eighth album, Alex Giannascoli incorporates new and improved older elements into his music while staying true to his lo-fi, singer-songwriter style and self produced/engineered work.