In a lot of ways, you can map Alex Giannascoli’s story onto a broader story of music and art in the 2010s. Born outside Philadelphia in 1993, he started self-releasing albums online while still in high school, building a small but devoted cult that scrutinized his collage-like indie folk like it was scripture. His music got denser, more expressive, and more accomplished, he signed to venerated indie label Domino, and he worked with Frank Ocean, all—more or less—without leaving his bedroom. In other words, Giannascoli didn’t have to leave his dream-hive to find an audience; he brought his audience in, and on his terms, too. “Something I can never stress enough is I try and explain this stuff, but it never accurately reflects the process,” Giannascoli tells Apple Music, “because I’m not actually thinking that much when I’m doing it.”
Recorded in the same building-block fashion as his previous albums (and with the same home studio setup), House of Sugar represents a new peak for Giannascoli—not just as a songwriter, but as a producer who can spin peculiar moods out of combinations that don’t make any immediate sense. It can be blissful (“Walk Away”), it can be ominous (“Sugar”), it can be grounded one minute (“Cow,” “Hope,” “Southern Sky”) and abstract the next (“Near,” “Project 2”)—a range that gives the overall experience the disjointed, saturated feeling of a half-remembered dream.
Often, the prettier the music is, the bleaker the lives of the characters in the lyrics get, whether it’s the drug casualty of “Hope” or the gamblers of “SugarHouse,” who keep coming back to the tables no matter how often they lose—a contrast, Giannascoli says, that was inspired in part by the 2018 sci-fi film Annihilation. “From afar, everything looks bright and beautiful,” he says, “but the closer you get, the more violent it becomes.”
Despite his rising profile, Giannascoli tries to remain intuitive, following inspiration whenever it shows up, keeping what he calls “that lens” on whenever possible. “I never say to myself, ‘This isn’t where I thought [the music] was going to go,’” he says. “Because usually I don’t have that thought in mind to begin with. And I never really end up getting surprised, because the music is unfolding before me as I make it.”