House of Sugar // Alex G

The album cover for Alex G's House of Sugar

You never really met me. I don't think anyone has.

I didn’t really like Rocket, Alex G’s 2017 album. It was the first time I’d heard of Alexander Giannascoli, who, at the time, had a “(Sandy)” unceremoniously tacked onto his name. I liked some of the tracks on Rocket - “Powerful Man” and “Guilty” are two of my favorites – but, all in all, it didn’t really *do* it for me.

Enter House of Sugar, a glittery, codependent anthem. I didn’t jump on this one, but was intrigued by its glamorous cover and the album’s growing hype.

So, “codependent.” That’s a heavy word to use. Where am I pulling it from? “Walk Away,” and its spiraling, repeated lines: “Someday I’m gonna walk away from you. Not today, not today.” Right then and there, Alex1 demonstrates a begrudging knowledge of the destructiveness of his situation. What that situation is, we do not know: is it addiction? Abuse? Whatever plagues our protagonist, it is eating him up, and he expresses this with the gorgeous icing of his orchestral guitar.

“Orchestral guitar” is the best description I have for House of Sugar. Chimes and backwards loops churn against the ears, peddled by a determined acoustic guitar and gently plodding drums. “Near” is a great example of the flitting nature of House of Sugar. It somehow reminds me of Animal Collective’s “No More Running,” in a resonantly thematic way. Alex is a master at conveying emotion through the music – though I’m certainly not going to disregard his writing.

The storytelling of “Crime” impresses me more every time I hear it, and Alex’s use of space expands it in a delicious way. It allows for interpretation with constriction, something I’ve always admired in songwriting. It’s a technique that perfectly entangles the freedom of the listener and the will of the artist. His expansive approach is also palpable on “Southern Sky” and “Cow,” and I love how his sprawling, seemingly scattered writing lends itself to this kind of imagination.

But his compact lyricism astonishes me, too. Alex knows when to sing and when to let the music sing for him. While “Hope” tells a somehow spacious story of addiction and friendship in only a few short minutes, “Taking” coils around the listener, repeating words until they blend into instruments. The crunching of “Bad Man” expertly underlies the song’s saga of rivers and bombs, and “Project 2” really does sound like a half-baked gingerbread Frankenstein.

Mongo from Shrek 2

On that note, I love the concept of the House of Sugar. Obviously, it’s lyrically relevant: the story of Hansel and “Gretel” is all too familiar to anyone who has dealt with the false promises of addiction or abuse, the candy houses of evil witches.

Whenever I think about Hansel and Gretel, I think about that oven. That small, burning oven. I think about being trapped in there, and feeling my skin burning tighter, just like those poor German kids. In a similar way, House of Sugar corkscrews tightly around the listener, embodying sugary toxicity, constricting like a still-baking house.

But when the saxophone bursts into “Sugarhouse (Live)”, we are freed from this saccharine prison. Whatever our protagonist has been so dependent on has faded into facsimile and fiction. I think adding the “(Live)” to this is a beautiful addendum to the song. The atmosphere buzzes with this feeling of fresh excitement, the crowd cheers as the song starts. It is a description of the music’s setting, but it is also a gentle command, a reminder that there is Life after abuse – “another chance to play the game.”

1Do you mind if I call him Alex? I don't want to keep typing "G" or "Giannascoli."