Review: Alex G - "Rocket" / Twin Peaks S3E1

Alex G - Rocket
(2017 Domino)

On Sunday night, David Lynch's Twin Peaks returned to television after a 26-year silence. The crust of the cherry pie I'd eaten too quickly sitting next to my girlfriend's yet-to-be-touched slice, I sat fidgeting with anticipation, trying hard not to speculate on the unsettling images that David Lynch and Mark Frost may have culled from their dreams over the past two and a half decades. When it comes to exploring the subconscious, having any sort of expectation will leave you disappointed: it's the passive mind, dozing in its leather recliner, that's most vulnerable to the oscillating wail of police sirens tearing through the block or the dropped Playstation controller that rams against the upstairs floor. You have to lull yourself into innocence to be jolted awake. It's this push and pull between the mundane and the harrowing that drives the series. In seasons 1 and 2, Agent Cooper's frequent stops for coffee, donuts, and griddlecakes were punctuated with the occasional act of violence or jarring fissure between the physical and spiritual worlds. Often, the distinctions between these atmospheres were blurred. In an early episode, Cooper polishes off pastries with a gloved hand as he and his forensics team sift through a murder scene. One isn't sure whether to judge this as charming or downright disturbing. In reality, it's a little of both.

The first two episodes of Twin Peaks's revival toe this same line, cloaked in a somewhat new aesthetic. The titular town's inhabitants sip from paper cups in lieu of their former mugs. An aging resident opens a marijuana dispensary. The series' scope spans the entire country and looks greyer, more grizzled filtered through the Showtime Network's TV-17 rated lens. Twin Peaks now looks and feels like many of the newer series it has influenced, yet it is through this sense of familiarity that Lynch and Frost can sneak up behind their audience, slipping in an unexplained scene of a jet-black ghost apparating out of its jail cell and images of corpses that feel too intimate and contorted to be processed. It's horror that relies on your comfort to germinate.

On Friday morning, Philidelphia's Alex G released Rocket, his second major-label release following a slew of Bandcamp-exclusive records. The same ambiguous energy that accented Twin Peaks' reboot also was present in the new album's 14 tunes: G flirts with the alt-country haze that soaked the suspended chords of Uncle Tupelo's 1990 debut, No Depression, while holding firm to the comfy-yet-creepy idiosyncrasies that make his discography so alluring, so Lynchian. 

The blend of the old and the new is made immediately apparent. Intro track "Poison Root" opens with the bluegrassy twang of banjos, tempered by Alex G's usual tropes -- tense power chords and the sampled bark of a dog. Beneath the country trimmings, the core motifs that the singer-songwriter's fans have come to love are as present as ever: an almost divine connection with household pets, mumbled vocals that could be mistaken for moments of shyness or incantations, and the caffeinated jitters of tightly-wound instrumentation. Each of these elements are as pleasant as they are strange. Like the crullers and crime scenes of Twin Peaks, one is torn between Alex G's twee-pop sensibilities and sinister undertones.

Lead single "Bobby" is still my favorite of Rocket's many stabs at folk-rock. As fiddles buzz out their swooping melodies, Emily Yacina and Alex G recite a vague story of infidelity and heartbreak that feels thematically "country" while blurring its details enough to feel fresh. Narrators and concepts are dreamy abstractions that cling to conditional tenses. It's difficult to determine who's speaking to whom, or why. And it doesn't really matter in the end. Like most Lynch and most G, "Bobby" paces back and forth in its aural space, sweating over nothing in particular. It doesn't arrive at a conclusion, or even start to work towards one, but it still lets you taste the juicy fruits of a brainstorming session. It's about the journey, not the destination, ya know?

Stylistic outliers like "Witch" and "Brick" are also strong showings. The former is Rocket's second catchiest cut next to "Bobby", noshing on hollow choruses and tossing their wrappers into the wastebin as if to exhaust a desire to sound like Animal Collective and Guided by Voices at the same time. "Brick" is a total shock to the senses, far more rough and distorted than anything Alex G's put out in the past. Battered by a blown out drum machine and screeched vocals, the track resembles a version of Death Grips even more inspired by early-80s hardcore punk. On their own, these songs are oddities. Within the album, they're as removed as nightmares.

Like Twin Peaks, the experience of consuming and attempting to understand Rocket is concordant with sitting back and enjoy it. Though each could be considered a dense work, the only way to really "get" them is to sit back, relax, and exist in their presence as if taking in a waking dream.