Coming hot off the heels of a monumental 7-sided album containing well over 2 hours of solo material, PC Music label head and producer Alexander Guy Cook has followed up his bizarre opus with a more reasonably sized release. One might have hoped that given its size and inconsistency, the 7G project was just some spring cleaning before presenting the creme of the crop on this release. Sadly though, despite being a much trimmer 10 tracks and 40 minutes, Apple is no more consistent in either sound or quality. Largely shunning the glamorous hyper pop of an artist like Charli XCX, A.G. Cook focuses his sound on more extreme and honestly less well-groomed ends of the spectrum.
The first two tracks establish the limits of the variance found in Apple, the record itself being as stark a juxtaposition as its cover image: a lush green apple, punctured by metallic spikes and wreathed in jagged matt metal holly. The album opens with “Oh Yeah”, a softly crooned guitar-backed ballad that builds into a sweetly written indie pop breakup song, with some tasteful vocal manipulation, which is used throughout the album to augment Cook’s limited vocal range. The switch up into the demented electronic bubblegum bass rager “Xxoplex” is as alarming as it is nonsensical. Gone are the soft tinny guitar strumming and breathy vocals, replaced by crushing distorted percussion and squawking nonsense vocals. The song moves through many different passages including a catholic choral passage and many squeaky vocal breakdowns.
The third track takes us straight back into the indie-pop mode of the opener, with “Beautiful Superstar”, and its here that the two biggest weaknesses of Cook as a solo artist begin to come through in stark relief. For one, his limitations as a vocalist do leave nearly all the tracks here feeling like missed opportunities. Its rare that I don’t find myself wishing I was hearing another singer from the PC Music collective, one with more range and presence, delivering these melodies.
The other issue is more than Cook’s own style, as far as he has one considering the extremes on display here, isn’t as hard hitting or confident as that of many other artists in his stable either. Most of the tracks on Apple, and indeed on 7G, feel like fragmentary ideas and expressions more than finely tooled pieces of audio intent on creating a feeling in the listener. It often feels more as if we are listening to the products of Cook’s own music therapy rather than something too much thought was put into. This was an impression suggested by the sheer volume of 7G and feels even more true of Apple.
A.G. Cook’s cover of Daniel Lopatin’s “Animals” is one of the most alarmingly manipulated tracks here, with the slow and chilly pace of a grunge-era Radiohead song and some oddly Elizabethan background chords. It’s a strangely beautiful but perplexing piece. The prickly, shimmering “Airhead” isn’t quite a highlight for me either, all stinging synth chords guarding a feint, airy melody. Some of the song’s passages are quite gratifying as it builds, but the piece as a whole doesn’t resolve into something that feels terribly rewarding.
From here the album levels off somewhat, with the soft countryish “Haunted” and the rather longwinded “The Darkness”, which, like many tracks here, feels like a much weaker version of something Charli XCX would have included on Charli. “Jumper” might be the weakest track on the album, as the vocal manipulation used here is a true misjudgement, squandering the potential of the trusty post-grunge melody Cook wrote for it. There are cover songs on the album, but alongside moments like this that either sound like covers or are crying out to be covered by someone else. Cook himself, though he occasionally convinces as a songwriter on Apple, and his skill as a producer is generally beyond question, never feels as if he is presenting the listener with the best possible version of any of these songs. Tracks like “Lifeline” are crying out to be handed off to a Caroline Polachek to really let them shine.