A.G. Cook is redefining pop. From collaborating with stars like SOPHIE to serving as Charli XCX’s creative director, the prolific PC Music Founder and producer has been instrumental to  ushering in a wave of experimental and futuristic sound. PC Music disrupts the clean palette of mainstream pop with glitchy, industrial, and glittery sounds. It emphasizes fluidity and openness, a reason why it’s been so heartily embraced by the LGBTQ+ community. Still, PC Music remains highly polarizing. Although fans have lauded the sound as exhilarating and inventive, its detractors have labeled it everything from ear-splitting and abrasive to “the worst byproducts of disaster capitalism.”

This year, after assisting dozens of PC Music artists and affiliates with their own projects, Cook finally began making headway in his own solo career. On August 12, Cook unveiled 7G, a monstrous debut album spanning an unheard of 49 tracks and seven discs. Now, just over a month later, Cook has returned with his follow up project, Apple. This latest album tries to do the seemingly impossible: capture the wild imagination of PC Music’s foremost mind in just ten tracks. 

In a way, the task does prove absurd. Throughout the album, Cook resists containment, experimenting and exploring a medley of strange and chaotic sounds. But in the end, this extravagant boldness turns Apple away from chaotic good and into pure chaos. 

Apple kicks off with its lead single “Oh Yeah,” with Cook crooning over an acoustic guitar. A country aesthetic settles for a brief moment, but autotune and a flurry of electronic bells and whistles soon take over, forming a love ballad whose intimacy is based in electronic sound. Cook highlights an uncanny ability to impress PC music influences into unexpected genres, especially ballads. On “Beautiful Superstar,” Cook takes the alternative-indie love song and dashes it with glitchy and electronic hues. 

In all of these tracks, Cook transforms the voice into an electronic sound that is not so distinguishable from its accompanying production. In doing so, Cook rehauls the conventional format where the voice carries the instrumental. Now, the voice is one of many similar sounds, and each individual sound that surrounds the voice gains elevated attention, resulting in a richer fusion of sounds. Even as he uses similar instrumentation to other classic genres, Cook infuses his own twist that transforms his songs’ character.

Cook also holds a unique ability to put listeners into a dreamlike trance. The jumpy melody and airy vocals of “The Darkness” evoke the feeling of chasing love in a dream, with the climbing intensity of the instrumental wonderfully matching the buildup of emotions. Nevertheless, Cook is not limited to bright, synthetic textures. On “Airhead” the jarring, screeching introduction leads the listener into a wincing nightmare, only for the airy, hyper vocals to suddenly immerse us into a fantasy of exploding sounds reminiscent of a video game soundtrack. 

These sudden movements between nightmare and sugar-coated dream are hallmarks throughout PC Music. Cook uses an acute awareness of space, especially the effect that individual and clashing sounds have on our sense of comfort, to arouse suspense and anticipation. This is especially true on his more instrumental tracks. “Stargon” features a series of progressively more intricate sounds fusing together in a cinematic experience. Distorted drums and overlapping synthesizer chords conflict with each other, building up into an ever more intense paradox of emotions. Cook tactfully heightens and suspends emotions, keeping listeners swaying between harmony and dissonance. The constant tension proves frustrating yet captivating. 

But for all his genius, Cook’s eclectic creativity sometimes leaves listeners completely irritated. “Xxoplex” is a jarring piece of glitchy house music with some of the most bombastic and unpleasant bass you will ever hear. “Animals” is a similarly confusing experience, with Cook’s screechy vocals completely out of sorts with the unremarkable synths.  Everything sounds horribly out of tune, and the track is topped off with incoherent lyrics: “Queen dies in her sleep / There is no time, king must not weep / we look at our phone / every morning, battery is dead.” 

Experimental music, when carried out well, often contains some meaning amidst the chaos. Sounds combine to create some kind of feeling. Unfortunately, Cook periodically appears to incorporate bombastic sounds just because they will leave a jarring impact. Meanwhile, he can also reach the other extreme where his tracks are left overly minimal. On “Haunted,” Cook wordlessly riffs over a simple keyboard board for nearly three minutes, with little development until the final seconds. All too often, it seems that Cook is treating his tracks like demos where development and cohesion are disregarded at the altar of getting a reaction—for better or for worse.

While Cook’s production never fails to leave a sizable impression, his voice is the exact opposite. Without a particularly distinct vocal delivery, Cook leaves his traditional singer-songwriter tracks lacking. “Lifeline” is a PC music love song in the spirit of Charli XCX. With its explosive sounds, one could only imagine Charli’s expressive, rangier vocals matching the diversity of the production. While Cook’s voice is not poor by any means, its ordinariness leaves listeners wanting more. 

Overall, Apple reflects its creator: extremely bold—but perhaps to a fault. Each song’s ending leaves listeners wincing in anticipation, unsure if the next track will be rife with imagination or aimlessly bombastic. This inconsistency is especially frustrating considering the focus Cook adopts on projects for other artists like Charli XCX.

Still, we could use more artists like Cook who push boundaries, embrace paradoxes, and challenge and transform conventional sounds. Perhaps he’ll take the next step as an individual artist and singer-songwriter. Regardless of what happens on those fronts, Cook’s sonic palette will continue to push music into a more boundless and creative future.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *