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Album review: A.G. Cook’s “Apple”

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It takes a lot of dedication to executive-produce three full albums while in quarantine. A.G. Cook, the producer/singer/songwriter (and apparent workaholic) behind London’s P.C. Music label released “Apple,” his second album in two months, on Sept. 18, 2020. Following his work as co-executive producer for Charli XCX’s spontaneous “how i’m feeling now” and his own 49-track album behemoth “7G,” “Apple” is a more condensed and clean vision of Cook’s own songwriting and production style. 

A true student of pop music, Cook has been a huge player in an ocean-crossing music movement for U.K. and American audiences. The founder of P.C. Music, a now-legendary label known for its shining artificial music and association with groundbreaking acts like SOPHIE and Charli XCX, Cook has been a hard-working force in pop since 2011. Make no mistake, Cook has been creating some of the most holistically beautiful and intricate melodies for nearly 10 years. From the sounds of “Apple,” he is nowhere near finished. 

While his work producing for other artists can be maximalist and overwhelming, Cook’s 10-track album is more stripped back, each sound placed delicately in a song. “Lifeline,” the final track, includes enough booming drums and bright, driving synths to fill a stadium. Cook’s voice warbles intentionally, pitched up and then back down to transgress age and gender throughout the song. 

Cook’s songwriting does not stray far from the founding principles of P.C. Music. “Oh Yeah” is instantly reminiscent of many of the label’s projects that are both an ironic and unironic parody of the pop tropes often dismissed as empty and superficial. 

“The notion of pure, classic songwriting is one of the core aspects of the album, and ‘Oh Yeah’ is maybe my most direct attempt,” Cook said in an interview with The Fader magazine. “I was really inspired by Shania Twain and how her clean, slinky vocals tell you as much about the song as her lyrics. The song itself – like most pop music – is really about confidence and escapism, and how bittersweet those things can feel.” 

The album shifts back and forth between more mainstream-adjacent songwriting and earnest acoustic guitar-driven tracks and, as is Cook’s specialty, pounding aggressive electronic tracks. “Apple” is simultaneously both Aphex Twin and Dave Matthews Band. “Xxoplex” is a standout song of this style, with no traditional vocals, but synths that sound like sirens screaming out into the distance. 

Throughout “Apple,” Cook’s attention to detail and work ethic stand out. Perhaps the album is not his magnum opus, it’s a reminder of Cook’s status as a major player in pop music. While the 49 tracks on his August super-album “7G” felt sprawling and endless, the tracks on “Apple” are carefully placed and cautiously created. With each release, Cook seems to narrow in on his own vision for pop music. Cook’s creations evoke the feeling of an artist addicted to his craft, like he couldn’t live without it and always wants to try something new. And with his track record, Cook could likely release more music before 2020 ends.

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    Coleman RobertsSep 22, 2020 at 5:06 pm

    Hello, from California. It’s cool to know there’s some A.G. Cook-listeners in the Midwest! Great review by the way. Cheers.

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