House of Sugar Music Review
Written by Jeff Ramella on October 29, 2019
By Evan Dekens
With a title like House of Sugar, it’s no surprise that (Sandy) Alex G’s new record, like much of his previous albums, lingers on the concept of consumption and pleasure. The allusions to the story of Hansel and Gretel, notable in the song “Gretel”, gesture at the revised compulsions of the fairy tale characters which the lyrics chronicle, “I don’t wanna go back, nobody’s gonna push me off track.” He sings, signaling a turn away from the Albums opener, “Walk Away”, an eerie love song about not wanting to “walk away” from something, possibly an actual person, more likely some iteration of the “sugar” which shows up in several places throughout the record. Here, Gretel fights against the allure and temptation of the candy which the Sugar House represents. While the sugar here is allegorical, songs like “Hope” suggest a more practical correlate in the form of opioids, more specifically, Fentanyl: “He was a good friend of mine. He died. Why write about him now? Gotta honor him somehow.” He sings over fast-paced rhythm guitar and organ. The song, “Hope” details the death of a friend from an overdose, in a thematic turn which seems strangely personal for an artist who has always utilized fictional narrators and recurring characters instead of an autobiographical voice. Though, as is often the case, many of the songs on House of Sugar use these fictional narrators, but the difference between the inconstancies of the speakers on House of Sugar, and the speakers in DSU, or Trick, is a sense of thematic unity. Each song deals with dependence and the frailty of a self-sufficient subject. On the song “Taking”, the speaker grapples with the imperfections of beauty and relationships in the world. On a couch, they see droves of lovers entering and leaving their life in rapid succession, each one only a “piece of beauty”, the endless repetition of the line “coming” cementing a sense of despair over the intangibility of meaningful relationships. In the second verse, the speaker lifts a “spoonful of sugar” to their mouth, repeating the action of “taking” continuously until semantic satiation renders the word itself meaningless. As the sugar replaces the speaker’s need for a lover, the word “coming” is supplanted by the word “taking”—each word implicating different relationships to the self, and the world the speaker inhabits. While “coming” illicit a sense of connection, even only a temporary or fleeting one, “taking” implies possession, specifically, in the case of sugar (or likewise drugs) what is possessed or consumed is left deliberately obscure, yielding no resolution.
More tender approaches to these themes are taken on songs like “In My Arms”, “Crime”, and “Cow”, more acoustically driven tunes that evoke the hardships of childhood, adolescence, and romantic intimacy. These songs, along with “Southern Sky” are among Alex G’s most complete and artistically satisfying to date, balancing his genre-bending approaches with provocative lyrics, pop-friendly melodies, and gorgeous arrangements.
The final track, a live recording of the song “Sugarhouse” is a haunting and beautiful closer. If the opening track, “Walk Away” details a struggle to leave something behind, then the “Sugarhouse” details a return back to old ways, but not without a newfound sense of perspective and deference. A gambler at the Sugar House, the speaker seems resigned to his fate “I won’t be forgotten/Let ’em bury me in the sand/When our children go digging for answers/I hope they can put me together again” he sings in the final verse. Here Alex G addresses not only House of Sugar, but cuts to the artistic core of his entire career. Though the lyrics seem to address the ways that he obscures a singular artistic identity throughout his career, he indulges in playing the part at the same time. And like the children of the speaker of “Sugarhouse”, Alex G’s listeners often find themselves trying to piece together the ambiguous and varied identities found in Alex G’s music into some unified whole.
Of all his albums to date, House of Sugar feels closest to complete. With excellent songwriting and stylistic aesthetics, it very may well be (Sandy) Alex G’s best.
Fav Tracks: Hope, Cow, Sugarhouse, Gretel, Taking, and Southern Sky