A. G. Cook: Britpop Album Review

May 9, 2024 - Music

The Past and Future discs will appeal directly to PC heads, with few big surprises. Even at peak intensity—the speedrun finish of “Prismatic,” the restless mechanics of “Luddite Factory Operator”—Cook’s surfaces are varnished, his structures both effortless and complex. There’s none of the naivety or pleasingly “wrong” tilt of those remarkable early productions, like GFOTY’s “Bobby” or Hannah Diamond’s “Pink and Blue.” This is the work of an accomplished, L.A.-facing pop producer. When Charli enters the room—as she also does on “Lucifer,” a catchy, moody-girl highlight also featuring Addison Rae—the scene comes alive, while the tracks that rest on ultra-processed, unintelligible vocals, like the Balearic “Crescent Sun,” take on the weightless quality of a hologram.

Which is why the Present disc, where Cook takes the mic, is the surprise standout of the three. Picking up where Apple left off, these eight songs also take their cue from Thy Slaughter’s Soft Rock—Cook’s witty collaboration with PC Music oldtimer easyFun—to drive deeper into digitally enhanced fuzz rock. Infused with the wistful melancholy that British comedian Bill Bailey once identified in his countryfolk (because “52 percent of our days are overcast”) the Present disc falls somewhere between cultish bedroom-punk (The Durutti Column, Felt) and scratchy ’90s indie (Teenage Fanclub, the Breeders, late ’90s Blur)—and delivers some sweet, sweet guitar tones to boot. Our troubadour gets close to the mic, using telephone effects and Auto-Tune to boost the grain of his far-from-powerful voice, while the guitars do quiet-quiet-LOUD grunge dynamics (“Green Man,” “Greatly”) and wailing mini-solos (“Nice to Meet You”). Most addictive is “Bewitched,” an egg punk anthem for the children of Weezer and Ash, iced with a perfect hook (“I heard her say, Abra-abracadabra”) that echoes an oldie by Ian Dury.

Buried inside the lyrics is a sense of distance and loss, from the awkwardly British (“I’ll miss you greatly”) to the open wound of “Without,” a tribute to his creative twin flame SOPHIE, who died in 2021: “An emptiness, a silhouette/I never guessed the loudest sounds are hollow.” Cook has spent the past few years living in America, including a lockdown in rural Montana, home to his girlfriend, the singer Alaska Reid. Feeling like a foreigner inevitably made him more aware of his Britishness, and seemingly more eager to play it up—hence the enduring Beatles mop-top. In place of the playful meta-ironies and commercial sheen of the PC Music world, Cook aligns himself with myth and magic (“Green Man,” “Crone,” “Bewitched”), stocking his lyrics with an apothecary’s worth of amulets, manuscripts, gargoyles, “skulls on the shelf” and “membranes stacked in the catacombs.”

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