From the first strum of his guitar in ‘Poison Root’, Rocket is a quintessentially Alex Giannascoli experience – the understated yet incredibly rewarding songwriting, the haphazard instrumentation, the tracks that make you double check you’re not actually listening to an unreleased Elliott Smith ballad: they’re all as present as ever. It’s a messy, sprawling, unpredictable album that launches you down many a rabbit hole of experimentation before slamming the brakes and taking off in an entirely different direction. It also, however, feels like a new Alex G experience, in a multitude of ways. In so many ways, in fact, that it ends up being hard to pin down exactly what Alex G really wants to do.

’Proud’, ‘Bobby’, and ‘Powerful Man’, for example, all channel a country aesthetic with varying degrees of potency. This aesthetic comes in part from Alex’s approach to the songwriting, but in the case of the latter two tracks, most notably through Molly Germer’s striking violin performance. In the case of ‘Bobby’, these elements come together to produce one of Alex’s more powerful tracks to date, an aching country ballad that features a beautiful assist from Emily Yacina. On ‘Powerful Man’, though, I feel like these elements combine to form an Achilles heel – the violin that felt so earnest on ‘Bobby’ becomes something overbearing and grating, with the chaotic, experimental nature of the second half working against the contemplative Mark Kozelek-tinged lyricism of its first half. However, ‘Proud’ is, in my opinion, one of Alex G’s best songs, period. The earnestness of the vocal performance merits the Elliott Smith comparisons more than ever, while the instrumentation provides the perfect setting for it to lie in: a warm, laidback slice of alt-country that brings to my mind the exquisite lethargy of Pavement’s 'Range Life’.

Yet, these songs embody but one of the many sides of Alex G’s musicality we see across Rocket. ‘Horse’ and ‘Brick’, for instance, lurch the record toward the abrasive and avant-garde. The instrumental ‘Horse’ sports a ramshackle clop-clop rhythm decorated with atonal pianos and gritty modulating synths, before transforming into ‘Brick’, which lands somewhere between Black Flag, The Prodigy and Death Grips. And I actually think Alex G pulls this look off really well – they’re both explosive, interesting tracks. ‘Brick’ is particularly exciting, it’s the kind of thing you’d imagine boxers listening to before a fight – but there’s very little in the way of context to place them in the album as a whole. Case in point, the track immediately following: ‘Sportstar’. This was a curious one on first listen – the influence of Alex G’s work with Frank Ocean last year is immediately apparent with the modulated, pitch-tuned, robotic lead vocal (which reappears in one of the weakest tracks, ‘Judge’) and the song’s two-step beach party groove. It couldn’t be more different to ‘Brick’. Though at first I wasn’t keen on ‘Sportstar’, the more I listen to it, the more I’m enchanted. The sugary sweet melody and nostalgic pianos are, frankly, incontrovertibly charming. But as soon as we begin to find comfort in this creative nook, the album veers away once more. This time it’s in a more typical Alex G direction: ‘Judge’, title track ‘Rocket’, and later ‘Big Fish’ could all fit nicely on 2015’s Beach Music or even 2014’s DSU. The same goes for one of the album highlights, ‘Witch’, a hypnotic, hazy dose of dark lo-fi pop.

Then there’s also the jazz-inflected numbers, ‘County’ and closer ‘Guilty’. I must admit I find ‘County’ fairly boring. Aside from somewhat pleasant dreamy vocal textures, its laissez-faire blues guitar and meandering structure contributed very little to the album and broke up the musical consistency of the first few songs. While it picks up lyrical strands from ‘Proud’, I didn’t think the instrumental was strong enough to do them justice. ‘Guilty’ is a more enjoyable experience, featuring woozy saxophone from David Allen Scoli over a swinging rhythm section complete with walking bass line and clattering street drums. But it’s somewhat of an oddball on the record, and a particularly strange choice for a final track. The smooth, atmospheric coda finishes all too soon and leaves me baffled by the ensuing silence on every listen.

Still, what Rocket does achieve is commendable – with his production duties here, Alex G cements his ability to sound both incredibly lo-fi and pristinely produced at the same time. The messy instrumentation, the (often audible) clipping from mics and on faders, the dog barking or friend talking in the background – these are, as always, incorporated into the sonic palette, but they’re given an inexorable sheen this time around. The guitars and keys that would have blended into one another, or been aggregated into textures on Beach Music or DSU emerge with striking clarity and character on Rocket. For nine or ten of the fourteen tracks it’s a satisfying concoction, but even amongst these stronger tracks what Rocket lacks is any real overarching cohesiveness.

Then again, cohesiveness has never been a huge part of what an Alex G record is about. With that in mind, Rocket hits enough of the right spots; there are a few really great songs, there are some tremendous arrangements, and it showcases Alex’s versatility and creativity, demonstrating once again that he is full of ideas and unafraid to try them out. For me, it’s far from a perfect album, but I think it’s an important step in Alex G’s career. It’s a step that highlights his growth as a producer, his creativity as a songwriter, and his ear as an arranger, even if these elements don’t always come together to produce a cohesive listening experience.