It’s Calling Me Back: Inside (Sandy) Alex G’s Creatively Restless House Of Sugar

(Sandy) Alex G is being asked about Frank Ocean again, and all he can do is politely laugh. To be fair, the connection is a key part of his bio: The 26-year-old played guitar on both Blonde and Endless, raising his profile from beloved lo-fi linchpin with hours of music on Bandcamp to marquee collaborator. Or so you’d think. In the years since, apart from a spare Oneohtrix Point Never cover and production work for Glitterer, his name has only appeared on his own musical projects. This is very much by design.

“I don’t want someone to hear a song and then they don’t know which part is me and which part isn’t me,” Alex told MTV News. On his restlessly creative new album House of Sugar, out today (September 13) via Domino, all the parts are his, even as he enlists added help for violin, bass, drums, guitar, vocals, and even saxophone on key tracks.

After Blonde, he put the word out about potentially writing for other artists behind the scenes, but prospective partners wanted more. “The few people that asked I think wanted me to be a public collaborator,” the Philadelphia singer-songwriter said. “I wasn’t that into that just because I’m trying to keep my name a little bit more for myself.”

That name — born Alexander Giannascoli but known widely as Alex G before adding (Sandy) in 2017 — is distinctly his. His Bandcamp page stretches back to 2010, brimming with slender yet emotionally complex acoustic numbers with titles like “Gnaw” and “Harvey.” The experience of listening to his music, home-recorded on a laptop but roomy, always feels uniquely private. It’s led to a fanbase so devoted they’ve dedicated a subreddit to him; r/sandyalexg posters share guitar tabs, upload live videos, and in one recent example of extreme fandom, even unearthed Alex’s own high school track times.

Alex has seen the site, and he says he’s grateful for their dedication even as it continues to blow his mind. “I feel a lot of respect from those people and I appreciate that, but also I guess I’m just like, why are you interested in [my track times]?” he says. At the same time, the mere presence of the site “makes me feel more secure in my efforts.” The subreddit speaks to the state of modern fandom, where the barrier between artist and listener is more tenuous than ever thanks to social media. But Alex’s official social pages are mostly promotional, leaving most of the personal connection to occur via the music itself. It comes in the details.

On “Hope,” a House of Sugar highlight and early single, he sings with an ache in his voice, “He was a good friend of mine / He died, why write about it now? / Gotta honor him somehow.” The next lines specifically reference fentanyl, a powerful synthetic opioid linked to nearly 60 percent of all opioid-related deaths in 2017 (as well as those of Prince and Tom Petty).

“It happened,” Alex said. “I was living with a guy, and then he died. But I’m usually reluctant to talk about any songs because, you know, they’re all autobiographical in a way.” He’s especially reticent to divulge too much about “Hope” given the sensitive nature of its creation. “I felt differently because I had never been so literal, and so I wanted to be sure that I was as respectful of the situation as possible because I knew the people around me were gonna be like, ‘Uh, what the fuck?'”

Alex stresses that his goal is to create resonant art by being honest with himself while maneuvering around telling his own precise story. It’s more like, as he explained, “look at this character in this context.” You can hear those inspired machinations across House of Sugar. On “Bad Man,” he adopts a winking Les Claypool twang to deliver some unsavory details about broken wrists and bombs. (“I wanted the listener to hear me saying, like, ‘I get it,’ basically.”) “Cow” shimmers gorgeously even as he sings, “You big old cow” to a potential savior. And if you’ve ever messed around with rudimentary keyboard and drum programming in an attempt to ape Aphex Twin, “Project 2” will make you feel extremely seen.

House of Sugar‘s endless charm lies in Alex’s commitment to his comparatively barebones setup. Just like on previous releases, everything’s run through a laptop, though this time, he upgraded his microphone in order to “move forward in a different direction” that “makes you wanna dance and shit.” One song notably not captured in the studio is Springsteenian closer “SugarHouse,” whose immediate sax wails make it feel at first like music trailing in from another room. The version here — captured at a November 2018 gig in St. Louis with his live band Sam Acchione, Tom Kelly, John Heywood, and David Allen Scoli — holds as much melancholy as the dozen tracks before it, yet Alex found inspiration in a hopeful place.

Tonje Thilesen

“I toured so much with these guys, and basically they’re my closest friends. I respect their musicianship a lot, so I wanted them on the album,” he said. There’s also precedent: Neil Young’s 1992 album Harvest Moon, which closes with a sprawling 10-minute live cut of “Natural Beauty.” “I just really fucked with that. It takes you out of the studio for a second.”

While Alex creates in the studio, his sister Rachel, a visual artist, creates separately. After, her work — often singular figures in the middle distance — becomes irrevocably linked to his by occupying his album covers. “I think it’s cool because we are kind of always on the same page about stuff, at least aesthetically,” he said. Alex attributed his exploration of alternative music to her, and she even lends vocals to the ghostly “Near.” Her “strong-willed” pursuits of art and music ended up paying off for him, too. “I’m sort of the spoiled benefactor of that.”

That symbiotic dynamic made me think of Alex’s own backlog of music, hours of intimate recordings all available at a click. Once you start in, the way he bounds from industrial hardcore to Pavement alt to lovesick folk can intoxicate. You might start to recall it in, say, a sunset. Back over at r/sandyalexg, a fan did exactly that, photoshopping House of Sugar‘s cover skater onto a beautiful purple nighttime vista. It was widely praised, how else but with some casual lyric quoting. One commenter invoked “Gretel,” one of Alex’s best, just about summing up the intangible power of his music: “It’s calling me back.”

Lil Wayne, Birdman, And Juvenile See Who Can Expend The Most Energy Rapping In ‘Ride Dat’ Video

Last month, history was made when Lil Wayne, Birdman, and Juvenile connected on “Ride Dat,” officially burying long-standing hatchets and pushing towards a new chapter, musically, with a new collaboration. Today (September 13), the video for the tune is out and shows them all together, happily, rapping and dancing as if they have never missed a synchronized step. It’s good-natured fun in a simple package that proves that a new version of the Hot Boys unofficially rides again.

The video for “Ride Dat” is all about lighting. There’s a ton of dim red and purple rooms, populated by dancing women and the trio of grizzled rap vets, dancing just as hard, smoking, and otherwise just leaning on each other for artistic support. Each gets their turn at the spotlight. First, it’s Juvenile who acknowledges getting over their differences as he gestures towards his rapping friends. Birdman comes next with one of his signature swaggering verses, followed by Lil Wayne’s hyper-animated delivery that makes everyone in the building smile. It ends with Birdman walking off-screen, presumably to both Juvenile and Lil Wayne as they prepare to head back to the studio and record another hit.

“Ride Dat” is Lil Wayne’s first collaboration with both Birdman and Juvenile since 2016’s “Hate.” It’ll be interesting to see if this tune becomes a part of something bigger. Could there be even more new music on the way?

Megan Thee Stallion Made A Case For An Entire Hot Girl Year On Fallon

Megan Thee Stallion brought the scorching heat of Hot Girl Summer to the stage of The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon last night (September 12) when she performed her hit collaboration with Nicki Minaj and Ty Dolla $ign, “Hot Girl Summer,” and “Cash Shit,” with DaBaby. With the help of Ty Dolla $ign, DaBaby, and an enormous computer screen, Megan transitioned her season to the fall successfully. No matter how cold it gets, it’s still going to be a Hot Girl Summer.

Megan and Ty took the stage first for a brief introductory show before sealing it shut to move onto “Cash Shit” and perform the latter number in its entirety. DaBaby made a surprise appearance by literally sliding across the stage on his butt while the sounds of babies crying emanated from the speakers. Behind them, fires raged on a giant computer screen behind them showing the kinds of things you can buy with big cash–diamonds and colorful, most likely expensive, cowboy hats.

Megan Thee Stallion recently appeared in the video for Maxo Kream’s “She Live” where she had her own dating show. Last month, she ripped the red carpet at the 2019 VMAs and gave an explosive performance at the pre-show.

Watch Megan Thee Stallion and friends bring the heat to Fallon up above.

Bop Shop: Songs From Lucy Dacus, Green Day, MAX And Kim Petras, And More

The world lost a songwriting legend this week when Austin-based musician Daniel Johnston died from a heart attack at age 58. Johnston, whose battles with depression and mental illness are detailed in the 2005 documentary The Devil and Daniel Johnston, became an inspiration to many, breaking into the public conscious when Kurt Cobain wore one of his shirts to the 1992 VMAs.

But aside from the mythologizing about Johnston’s mental state, odd behavior, and eccentricities, what kept him inspiring generations of musicians was his ability to completely and beautifully pour himself into his songs. Johnston’s high, fragile voice may waver on “True Love Will Find You in the End” as he ponders his loneliness and heartbreak. But he encourages himself and listeners to keep going despite hardships, promising that things will eventually work out. They have to, right?

If the many online tributes (including this one) in his memory are any indication, in the end, Daniel was truly loved. —Bob Marshall

Louis Tomlinson Becomes A Proper Rock Star Again In Stylish ‘Kill My Mind’ Video

Last week, Louis Tomlinson dropped a new single called “Kill My Mind” that found him rediscovering his talents for fizzy pop-rock and leaning all the way in. There’s a reason his voice anchors the chorus of One Direction’s “No Control,” a song he co-wrote, after all.

On Friday (September 13), Louis delivered a stylish accompanying video for the song, one that finds him taking his rightful place fronting a live band. Remember when he performed “Back to You” with Bebe Rexha and Digital Farm Animals back in 2017? It was fine, but Louis looked like he’d rather be hanging on a mic stand in a dark nightclub with guitarists flanking him on either side. “Kill My Mind” finally makes it happen.

There’s a loose plot here involving a man on a motorcycle and a woman in the front row, but the real focal point here is Louis, bathed in red light onstage, looking his he’s having the time of his life. On social media promoting the vid, which was directed by Charlie Lightening, he confirmed he did. “Proper enjoyed filming this,” Louis wrote. “Thanks to all the fans who came down too.”

Much like the song, which ends in a fadeout, the video feels incomplete, teasing another song and visual featuring Louis and the couple with some distorted guitar chords. We’ll have to wait and see what’s next. “Kill My Mind” is our second official taste of his upcoming solo debut album after “Two of Us,” a sweet tribute to his late mother.

Watch Louis Tomlinson’s energetic new video for “Kill My Mind” above.

18 Anime-Inspired Music Videos For Music-Loving Otaku

It would be blasphemous to kick off this list with anything other than one of the most instantly recognizable anime-inspired music videos ever: Daft Punk’s “One More Time,” the French electronic duo’s 2000 dancefloor opus. The psychedelic clip, which shows a blue-skinned alien pop group performing on their home planet, was crafted under the visual supervision of Leiji Matsumoto, one of anime and manga’s most prolific figures. It’s no wonder, then, that “One More Time” and the 2003 animated sci-fi film it was later included on (Interstella 5555) bears a striking resemblance to Matsumoto’s iconic ‘70s series, Galaxy Express 999.

Halsey’s ‘Graveyard’ Is A Toxic New Taste Of Her Forthcoming Album

Halsey is officially back with the announcement of her third studio album, Manic, that is set to come out on January 17. With this reveal, she’s also released a sickening and sad new song about dangerously addicting love, “Graveyard,” that is as dark as they come. It’s the first taste of the long-awaited follow-up to her 2017 LP Hopeless Fountain Kingdom. Halsey season is now upon us.

It began with a painting live-stream, with Halsey showing fans the cover of her new album by painting it. Afterward, that’s when the news dropped, followed by the release of the down-in-the-dumps barrel of emotions, “Graveyard.” This melancholy three-minute diary follows Halsey chronicling her mental struggle to separate herself from a relationship that does more danger to her than good. It sounds happy enough, with blithe synths and drums that try to hide the fact that her words are painful, jarring, and searing. “You look at me/With eyes so dark, don’t know how you even see,” she sings through the soft, inviting hand claps. It hints at a darker edge for Halsey’s new album that arrives in months. The journey begins in this graveyard.

Halsey shared a bloody and tenacious video for “Nightmare” in May that featured Blondie and Cara Delevingne as members of her fire-synthesizing gang. Halsey also released “Boy With Luv” with BTS in April.

Listen to “Graveyard’ up above.

DaBaby Raps About His Ex Being A Meanie On Lil Nas X’s ‘Panini (Remix)’

Yesterday (September 12) on Twitter, Lil Nas X wanted fans to guess who he recruited for the remix to “Panini.” He offered $100, and the predictions rolled in throughout the rest of the day. Nearly no one could guess that he would recruit “Suge” rapper DaBaby to bring some grittiness to the futuristic atmosphere of the honest, questioning song. With a new verse that’s about a failed relationship, “Panini” now has even more emotion to latch on to.

DaBaby jumps in behind Lil Nas X for the remix’s second verse, boldly claiming that the song “reminds me of my ex.” He then elaborates a bit, like he’s staring at the sky, daydreaming. “Say I be declining all her calls and I don’t respond to none of her texts,” he raps. If you recall, in 2018, DaBaby dressed up as a cowboy in his video for “Walker Texas Ranger.” He draws attention to its similarities to how Lil Nas X was dressed in the “Old Town Road” video. “She watched that “Walker Texas Ranger,” say I remind her of Nas X,” he spits confidently. Along with the remix, Lil Nas X shared a Chowder-inspired cartoon visual that just amps the energy of DaBaby’s delivery. It’s a truly special new version. Could this spell “Old Town Road”-like dominance?

Lil Nas X recently released the video for “Panini” earlier this month. In it, he is the world’s most annoying leader in the future, placing his presence on everything from buildings to advertisements that walk around. Director Mike Diva spoke with MTV News and revealed that Lil Nas X developed the entire video treatment on his Notes app from his iPhone.

Listen to Lil Nas X and DaBaby bring some new emotions to the “Panini” remix up above.

Ariana Grande, Miley Cyrus, and Lana Del Rey’s ‘Don’t Call Me Angel’ Video Is A James Bond Fever Dream

Ariana Grande, Miley Cyrus, and Lana Del Rey are the most dangerous, awesome, and badass singers alive in the video for “Don’t Call Me Angel,” set to appear in the forthcoming film Charlie’s AngelsWhether it’s not being phased by extremely scary events, training and torturing someone at the same time, or practicing pinpoint accuracy with a weapon out of boredom, the video makes it clear that this singing trio is unlike any other.

The three singers that exist in this video aren’t the sweet, cheery crooners that you think you know. They each have black angel wings signifying that the adorable twinkle in their eyes is a facade. Ariana draws you in with a soft chorus for the fast-paced, pop song, perfect for espionage, before bringing us to a torture scene where Miley Cyrus is giving some poor guy the worst morning of his life. She punches him across the face and knocks blood from his mouth while the scene is interspersed with other clips of her practicing fighting for this very moment. It’s badass.

Meanwhile, Lana is an intense spy with swords, nunchucks and all other kinds of dangerous devices of war.  We see her practicing throwing knives and then taking int he smell of fresh bulletproof vests. She’s not to be toyed with. She also has a softer side, choosing to lounge in a red robe near a fire. The trio then comes together for some cool-for-the-sake-of-it shots as evil angels, proving that, together, they form a team of the most dangerous singers in the world.

Charlie’s Angels hits theaters on November 15 and will star Kristen Stewart, Elizabeth Banks, and more. The soundtrack for the film, co-executive produced by Grande, is set to come out on November 1.

Watch the video for “Don’t Call Me Angel” up above.

Charli XCX Tells Us How Charli Breaks New Ground, Musically And Mentally

One of Charli XCX‘s Angels had preordered the singer’s new studio album Charli three times. Another was certain that the LP would save pop music, and yet another’s life was literally depending on it. After the singer-songwriter tweeted a quick countdown to the album a few weeks ago, these were just three of the responses in a long reply thread of excitement-driven expletives, ALL-CAPS statements, and a general sense of rabid anticipation. To her Angels, Charli is a deity.

Given the promising personal nature of a self-titled album, that exhilaration makes sense. Charli, out today (September 13), is diaristic, yes, but it also acts as something of a reintroduction to Charli herself, who’s evolved considerably as a music maker since her last proper album, 2014’s Sucker. “I felt very comfortable opening up and being honest about my mental state and my feelings about anxiety, isolation, and being an artist,” Charli tells MTV News. “The cool part about writing it basically every day back to back was that my mood would change constantly. I’d write different songs a day that helped shape it.”

At 51 minutes, Charli — a cosmic safari of bold, futuristic sounds — is a lengthier contemporary pop album. It was almost longer. But Charli, along with her co-executive producer A.G. Cook, decided that adding more songs would have made it harder to tell the story that they tried for. “At the end of the process, we were aiming for like a 20-track album, but we figured an additional five would have been difficult to wrangle together,” Cook tells MTV News. The final album is the concise, most current sonic apparition of the 27-year-old pop star whose music sounds like pop’s past, present, and future folded into one omniscient entity.

Charli was recorded quickly. Not as swiftly as her 2017 mixtape Pop 2, which was completed in just three weeks, but still laid down over a month and some change, sprinkling in-studio sessions in November, January, and March. “I like to be fast and I like to work with a lot of artists,” Charli says jubilantly.

She’s not kidding. Charli feels much bigger than its 15 tracks, with 14 high-profile collaborators — including Lizzo, Haim, Troye Sivan, and more — spread across the LP. “I like to bring in as many artists all over the world from different places and cultures because I feel like that is what really drives me to learn from them and to make sure that they have a voice in my record,” she says. “That’s what excites me and that’s what I love about collaboration.” Cook facilitated some of these collaborations, bringing in producers like Montreal producer Ö, who worked with Charli on Pop 2‘s “Lucky,” and futurist electronic producer and songwriter Dylan Brady.

As a prevailing theme of Charli is chemistry, it’s only natural that Cook and Charli would be extremely close. They exchanged direct messages for a while before meeting at Charli’s housewarming party where, afterward, their creative partnership began to solidify. “We immediately hit it off because we’re relatively similar people with the same sense of humor,” he says. “After the party, we did a few sessions together. By the time that we really started making music, I felt like I knew her super well.”

Their partnership grew organically. Cook worked on one song from Charli’s 2016 EP, Vroom Vroom, and a year later, he earned six writing credits and five producing credits on her mixtape Number 1 Angel. By year’s end, Cook produced and wrote on every track of Pop 2. “I’ve gotten to know her so much better,” Cook says. Now, they rely on each other’s instincts when recording music. “When she’s feeling something and I’m feeling something, we just write it down really fast,” Cook says. “Some people work on something and then tweak it, come back to it, or mix it up. We are either into it or just delete it and move on.” To balance out their rapid-fire recording style with their genuine closeness, the duo converted a rented Airbnb into their studio. “We thought it would be more fun to not even think about it too much as a studio, so we set up in multiple rooms. The workflow was much easier that way because it was chaotic,” Cook says.

One of these quick, intuitive songs is “Thoughts,” where Charli floats with an electronic voice that threatens to blow everything away. Cook’s high-energy production evokes being lost in space with alarms blaring all around. He calls it one of his favorites on the album. “When I made the instrumental, I didn’t think that someone would be able to sing over it and command it, but as soon as she heard it, we were in the middle of recording something else and she wanted to record over it,” he says. Charli proceeded to record two verses and a chorus in a snap. “She took this huge instrumental sound and made it really intimate and it feels like a huge stream of consciousness that just really sticks out.”

Another similarly inspired song is “2099” which serves as a “more experimental electronic” and “darker” sequel to Charli and Sivan’s nostalgic hit “1999.” “After we completed the song, I asked him, ‘I know “1999” is done, but should we get a bit weirder as well?'” Charli says. They did, twisting the sepia tones into something more primal and minimalistic. They “pull up, roll up, fuck up” and use “future” on the chorus like a war chant. It’s the kind of creepy, aberrant vision we’ve come to expect from Charli. The future’s selfish, and we’re all longing for the sweet memory of the past and the music that inspired us.

Then there’s “Blame It on Your Love,” a fresh collaboration with Lizzo that began as the woozy, experimental “Track 10” on Pop 2. But Charli says that it simply “didn’t feel right” until Lizzo brought her contagious vibes and natured and bombastic touch. “Her energy while she’s writing is exactly what you think,” Charli says. “She’s so effervescent and her vibe is really good.”

The seismic “Shake It,” meanwhile, finds Charli re-teaming with some past collaborators; rapper CupcakKe, chameleonic artist Brooke Candy, and drag-queen singer Pabllo Vittar all appear alongside New Orleans bounce legend Big Freedia. Charli especially looked forward to connecting with Freedia’s explosive and unrestrained energy for the first time. “I don’t really have a huge part on that song actually,” she says. “I wanted them to all do their thing because they are all some of my favorite artists and I wanted them to kill the track, which they all do.” Big Freedia was similarly eager to make things happen, saying via email that Charli “thinks outside the box” and is “fierce.” The result of the dynamic team-up is a moist, temperate atmosphere of breathless chants and distorted, Terminator-like metallic screeches. The beat drops with a vicious snap, and the quartet issue commands in their unique ways to move your body. There’s nothing left to do but give in.

Of everything on the massive album though, Charli’s most amped for fans to dive into opener “Next Level Charli,” a victorious song for her diehards that live and die by the XCX. It’s like driving with the top down as a slight rain shower tickles your smiling teeth. “I feel like it’s our anthem. It’s about us going out, getting a little fucked up, feeling bossy and braggy,” she says. “It’s about playing music fucking loud in your car on the way to the party about to have the best night of your life. I feel like that’s what I do and that’s what they do, so that song is for them.”