Alexander Guy Cook, known to most as A.G. Cook, has been busy. The super-producer behind some of Charli XCX's biggest hits and founder of the experimental pop music collective PC Music has only sped up in quarantine. While the world reckoned with COVID–19 back in March, he produced Charli XCX's How I'm Feeling Now, in addition to co–producing Jonsi's Shiver. Then, just a month ago, he released his "debut album," an ambitious 7–disc, 2–hour record called 7G. The record was a revealing peek inside the music wiz's toolbox, albeit overwhelming upon first listen.
Now, he has released his "second debut album," Apple. In contrast to 7G, Apple is only ten tracks long; Cook's concept of a proper album. Though he has gained a reputation for cloaking his work in at least five layers of irony, critiquing pop culture just as he made it, his new record is achingly sincere. It's full of tongue–in–cheek self–references, harsh electronic tracks, and more. Cook, who has always bent music to his will, has presented a new form of the pop music album with his latest record.
Apple's over art is a fitting visual for the music inside. A silver star grows out of a bright green apple, the leaves made of a spiky metal. Apple alternates between heartfelt, earnest mid–tempo ballads, and harsh experimental tracks which push synths to their limits. The former kind can be considered "green apple" songs, while the latter are more akin, sonically, to the spiky, harsh "silver stars." While the "silver star" songs have precedent in Cook's discography, the excessively genuine "green apple" ballads are something new for the man who's music is layered in ironic social commentary.
Lead single, "Oh Yeah," is the first of the "green apple" songs. A short, sweet, and radio–friendly pop song, it underscores Cook's passion and fundamental understanding of both music and pop culture in its simplicity. It feels profound in the context of the rest of Cook's work with PC Music, which is mostly opaque, high concept, electronic experiments released under pseudonyms—not to mention his extensive production work for other artists. Inspired by Shania Twain, "Oh Yeah" sheds all those preconceptions of Cook, relishing in the dumb pleasures of a meaningless pop song.
The next single and second track is "Xxoplex," a "silver star" song. Harsh and grating, Cook takes his synths to new heights, sending a drum machine to its sputtering end multiple times. It's the kind of track you'd hear at a Zoom rave—chaotic, adrenaline pumping, and extremely artificial. Though more in line with Cook's back catalogue than the previous song, "Xxoplex" questions the nature of music, what we expect from our instruments and what we want to get out of them in return.
"Beautiful Superstar"—another "green apple" song—is simple and heartfelt on the surface, but buried within it are references to his past discography. The title itself is a reference to two PC Music classics, "Superstar," and "Beautiful," the latter of which was most famously sampled in Charli XCX's "Unlock It." Even without the knowledge of his past work, "Beautiful Superstar," in all its sappy power–pop ballad goodness, is enough to make even the most jaded person burst into tears.
The album continues to alternate "silver star" and "green apple" songs, though there are still tracks worth mentioning. "Animals" is a cover of Oneohtrix Point Never's track of the same name from 2015's Garden of Delete. It's not a not entirely unexpected move from Cook, given his penchant for similarly strange electronica. Many song include vocal credits from many of Cook's collaborators from throughout the years. "Airhead" features writing and vocal credits from Hayden Dunham, who worked with Cook as the face of the notoriously inscrutable "Hey QT" project. Alaska Reid contributes to the murmured "Haunted," while Hannah Diamond and Caroline Polachek shimmer and fade away like wisps on "The Darkness." Fellow producer Nomak, also known as Ö, is the only other co–production credit on the album with "Jumper," for which he sings as well. Lastly, closer "Lifeline," also features Polachek's distinct vocals.
What's so endearing about Apple is that it reveals something inherent in both popular culture and the music that drives it. Paired with graphic designer Timothy Luke's impeccably sleek imagery, the album is made even more affecting. The internal logic of A.G. Cook's "second debut album" is something to behold in and of itself. Apple showcases the wizard behind one of the most notorious record labels in pop music in top form, oscillating between harsh noise and tender sentiment.