ALBUM REVIEW: (Sandy) Alex G Gets Deep on ‘House of Sugar’

The Philly indie experimentalist explores temptation and unluckiness in the everyday.

We love our small talk because we really don’t care. We ask “What’s up?” and “How’s it going?” and expect simple answers. Albums like House of Sugar show us how dangerous this is. Because, like a house made of sugar, everything could collapse and we could lose it all.

The cryptic yet relatable characters created by Philadelphia-based (Sandy) Alex G frequently suffer for no other reason than they’re unlucky. “Hope” is a tribute to his friend who died from a fentanyl overdose. The man on “Bad Man” begs us for sympathy. “If I had a way, I would take it back,” he sings, and we want to believe him. Temptation is a theme explored throughout the album, but Alex G doesn’t ask us to take sides. People have weak moments, but that doesn’t make them weak.

Alex G accomplishes this through music that builds on the experimental tendencies we heard on 2017’s Rocket. Dizzying opener “Walk Away” plays like a slow-motion panic attack. On the menacing “Sugar,” Alex G wishes he could fly away with the birds he sees (perhaps he’s high, or hopeless, or simply exhausted). The electronic instrumental “Project 2” would sound out of place if we hadn’t come to expect, literally, anything from the guy.

Yet for all the genre-bending, Alex G embeds hope in his most straightforward songs. The bluegrass-inspired “Southern Sky,” where he finds peace in the memories of his lost friend, is one of the most beautifully effective tracks of the year. “Yes, I believe I made out fine,” he sings on the guitar ballad, “Cow,” which is also the oddly endearing nickname he’s given the person who’s finally made him happy.

The final track, “SugarHouse (Live)” is named after the SugarHouse Casino on the Delaware River. There, Alex G is pushing his luck, but he also knows he’ll be okay because of the person at his side. That the track is live is symbolic: together, we’ll make it. We need to ask deeper questions. “How’s your life going?” “Are you okay?”

Score: ⛸️⛸️⛸️⛸️⛸️ / 5