Album Of The Week

Album Of The Week: A. G. Cook 7G

The name of the PC Music game has always been excess. In sound and execution, the internet-pop label was designed to be a lot. At its peak, the label was putting out new songs almost every week, creating a mythology for itself that included a faux energy drink and a roster of artists that didn’t really seem to exist outside the confines of the label. Much of that development was spearheaded by A. G. Cook, the founder of the label, who often opted to remain in the background as other musicians took the spotlight. He’s done that even more in recent years. Cook has struck up a fruitful collaboration with Charli XCX — they’ve worked on four albums together, including this year’s how i’m feeling now.

But PC Music has never died, even though the label’s output has slowed down considerably. Most recently, they’ve released the much-delayed full-length by Hannah Diamond and invigorating new tracks from Swedish songwriter Namasenda and the shoegazey band Planet 1999. PC Music has been playing the long game. While they never became as big as they might have briefly felt, their sound has slowly but surely crept into the sub-mainstream. A whole generation of hyperpop, from 100 gecs on down, owes a lot to PC Music. And A. G. Cook, in many ways, is the movement’s father.

Cook started the label in 2013, but it’s taken seven years for Cook’s first “proper” solo album to emerge. In true PC Music fashion, it doesn’t feel very much like a proper album at all. 7G is over two-and-a-half hours long and has 49 songs. It’s hard to imagine many who are willing to tackle it in one go. It’s overwhelming, much in the same way that PC Music was and still is. But there’s a lot to admire in here, a lot that helps illuminate why Cook has become a creative sounding board for his fellow weirdo pop musicians. His ear for melody is masterful, and his take on pop music can range from hyper-glossy to hyper-abrasive. He’s a jack-of-all-trades, and 7G lets him explore every side of what he’s been working on through PC Music and his many collaborations throughout the years.

The album is split up into sections to make it a little easier for the listener. There are seven discs comprised of seven tracks, each dedicated to a different instrument: drums, guitar, supersaw, piano, Nord, spoken word, and extreme vocals. Think of it as seven different albums, or seven different thought experiments. Each section provides a potential pathway for Cook to travel down. On the guitar one, he’s reimagined as a sad-sack Bandcamp god; in another, he’s a maniacally demented pop musician.

The whole release is a little trolly in its self-indulgence. Even beyond the seven discs that will appear on streaming services, there’s a whole other maze of material included for any fan that orders the deluxe edition of 7G: a stack of files with one-second blips of sound and photos and snippets of songs that could have been. It suggests Cook has a lot more material where this comes from, that even after 49 songs the well of his creativity has not run dry.

But, like I said, 7G is hard to take it all in at once. I forced myself to listen to it straight through the first time. Since then, I’ve been skipping around, throwing it on shuffle. A straightforward listen is definitely a little exhausting. Taking it disc by disc is probably a better approach. It’s easier to turn yourself over to whatever mood Cook is trying to create. I can’t imagine Cook much cares how you listen to 7G. Despite its initial impenetrability, 7G isn’t precious and it’s not particularly intimidating. Instead, it’s flippant and often very fun.

The “extreme vocals” section that closes out 7G is probably its strongest, or at least it’s the disc that comes the closest to recreating the madcap genius of A. G. Cook in an easily consumable package. If you’re only going to listen to one G of 7G, make it this one. “Show Me What” sounds like the plinking cousin of Charli XCX’s recent “detonate“; “The Somers Tape,” which Cook worked on with Alex Somers of Sigur Rós/Jónsi fame, sounds a little like Clairo. There’s an impressive cover of Sia’s melodramatic hit “Chandelier,” on which guest vocalist Caroline Polachek really gets to go in on the chorus as Cook modulates her voice in all kinds of directions. His cover of Smashing Pumpkins’ “Today” in this section would slot in nicely on Miss Anthropocene. It’s filled with more traditionally-structured songs than the rest of 7G, and that helps highlight Cook’s best tendencies: his ability to synthesize a variety of sounds, his clean production skills, and his affinity for impeccable hooks no matter what form they take.

Also notable is the “guitar” portion of the album, the one where Cook reimagines himself as an indie rock artist. A lot of it sounds like Alex G, the guitars morphed and fucked-with until they often no longer sound much like guitars at all. There’s a collaboration with Oneohtrix Point Never’s Daniel Lopatin that’s pretty great, teasing out some of the ideas that Lopatin explored on his most recent album Age Of. “Drink Blood” is affecting, a mournful ballad in which Cook begs not to feel: “Baby, don’t let me feel love/ Baby, don’t let me drink blood.” That section closes out with a histrionic-heavy cover of Blur’s “Beetlebum” and a stripped-down live rendition of Cook’s 2016 single “Superstar,” which makes it sound like a lost alt-rock anthem.

There are a lot of individual highlights throughout 7G. The covers sprinkled throughout are good, a way to bring together A. G. Cook’s more auteurist tendencies with something more familiar. And his picks are often surprising. Who would think to cover Taylor Swift’s Fearless track “The Best Day“? But Cook found something worth reworking in it, like he has with all of the covers on the album, from the Strokes’ “The End Has No End” to the “Crimson And Clover” interpretation that comes towards the end of 7G. There are scattered bits of ingenuity of his own, too, ones that are hard to write about but are worth shouting out if you’re looking for highlights without wanting to dig through the whole of 7G. “Oracle,” the opener from the album’s piano section, is a bop. “Life Speed,” the closer from the Nord section, sounds like video game music in the best way. And “2021,” from the album’s spoken word disc (which is not spoken word as you might think of it), is snotty and fun, a cheerleader chant delivered with a sneer: “Everything you do, it’s been done before/ Everything you say, you said that yesterday.”

Not all 49 tracks work — that’d be a crazy batting average! Some songs go on for too long, others don’t stick around for long enough to make an impression. Some discs as a whole are more successful than others. The low point is probably the supersaw section, where the songs get a bit too pondering and formless. But even within that, there’s a transcendent cut in “DJ Every Night,” which features Hannah Diamond echoing a song they did together a few years back. It sounds like a fuzzy memory of having a wild night to that song back in 2014.

7G isn’t going to be for everyone. PC Music has always been divisive, and even for those who like PC Music, a two-and-a-half hour album is a big commitment. But more often than not, 7G rewards the effort it takes to sift through it. It’s ambitious and impressive and feels like a gift for fans that have stuck through years of PC Music loosies. It’s also a challenge for new listeners to get through. I’m sure it will make a really sick playlist. I can’t imagine ever listening to all of it in one go again, but I’m glad that it exists. And if it can serve as a sort of clearing house for all things Cook, so he can get all these ideas out there in the world and go back to the drawing board and make some more deliriously high-concept pop music… Well, that’s even better.

7G is out 8/12. Pre-order it here. There’s a 7G listening party via Zoom later today (8/11) at 4PM EST featuring appearances from Charli XCX, SOPHIE, Flume, Hannah Diamond, and more.

Other albums of note out this week:
• Young Jesus’ bleary and expansive Welcome To Conceptual Beach.
• Bruce Hornsby’s smooth and guest-heavy Non-Secure Connection.
• Burna Boy’s Twice As Tall, which includes features from Chris Martin and Stormzy.
• Boldy James’ Griselda debut The Versace Tape.
• Black Noi$e’s Oblivion, which includes features from Earl Sweatshirt and Danny Brown.
• Whitney’s covers album Candid.
• Kathleen Edwards’ first album in seven years, Total Freedom.
• Bill Frisell’s trio album Valentine
• Primitive Man’s Immersion.
• Biffy Clyro’s A Celebration Of Endings.
• Perlee’s Half Seen Figure EP.

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