Search The Line of Best Fit
Search The Line of Best Fit

Britpop chronicles A. G. Cook's decade-long musical ventures


Release date: 10 May 2024
AG Cook Britpop cover
14 May 2024, 09:00 Written by Tanatat Khuttapan

The fluid music of English producer A. G. Cook has been historically confounding.

A person of great flexibility and eccentricity, Cook is often deemed as a forefront of this art form’s “future”, whether he wants to or not; being the founder of PC Music and a mastermind behind numerous acclaimed projects certainly helps. His career’s upward trajectory is most discernible in this decade, where his name appears on the credits of many influential artists’ works: XCX’s how i am feeling, Utada’s Bad Mode, Beyoncé’s Renaissance, Polachek’s Desire. While these records, which enlist other producers alongside him, settle in a culture-specific sound constructed by these inventive minds, his solo output never quite does. He’s constantly, unpredictably changing, hence why the word “confounding” is fitting.

Cook’s records love brisk metamorphoses. In an artist’s discography, self-reinvention may require years in the making, but all it takes for him is a chair scoot to an instrument that contrasts with what he used for the previous song. The blaring electro-mania “Airhead” neighbours the quiet demi-country tune “Haunted” on 2020’s Apple, a shift so daring and ridiculous you might presume the album’s accidentally put on shuffle. He does admit that this is part of his brand, a “sort of unpredictable hybrid” that arouses curiosity. This trademark carries on to his latest 100-minute project Britpop. Comprising 3 discs named past, present, and future, it documents his eclectic musical ventures through time.

Although nowhere near the galactic ambition of his 4-hour debut 7G, Britpop strives to display as much personality as possible. These lush instrumentals, soft whispers, and frantic refrains embody his vision of music: “chewy”, messy, and psychoanalytical in the sense that it is largely unstructured and instinctual. “You Know Me” follows a natural progression with erratic additions of sharp clangs and dense percussion that’s typical of bubblegum bass. “Green Man”, a song of cold and misty atmosphere, at times shoves in a harsh electric guitar stem without precedence. These elements are abstract by nature, but the occasional lack of substance here shows how heavily reliant they are on Cook’s concept.

The album title isn’t to be taken literally; it only originated when he was living in the U.S. and starting to realise how interconnected the music from there and Britain, his homeland, is. You can see the cross-reference on “Green Man” and “Bewitched” with their subtle influence of shoegaze and alt-rock, and “Equine” has mixed constituents of R&B and bubblegum pop. This contributes to the genre volatility of Britpop, where there’s a hidden balance between the two cultures Cook is a part of. Time is a factor too; “Prismatic” sounds like a lost early-2010s EDM demo with its slimy synths and then-trendy use of vocal distortion. It’s more than obvious that there’s a lot going on behind these songs.

The music itself, however, doesn’t boast as much complexity. Most switches become a merely fleeting shock value once Cook gives up the opportunity to capitalise on them and turn these songs into an odyssey of genuine, fully realised variety that he seems to go for. The 25-minute “present” disc suffers the most from this setback. His muffled, autotuned voice sometimes feels robotic due to the absence of emotional expression, and the mellow synths and guitar are usually set to a stale chord progression, thus amounting to no distinctive highlights. “Serenade” and “The Weave” – to name some – agree to this description; their melodic monotony falls flat when the lyrics, too, fail to intrigue.

Britpop’s unfortunate mishap proves how Cook’s well-thought-out concept only faintly translates to the actual material, and that the latter can get lost in the mist as a consequence. But, like having bread with no supplementary sauce and side dishes, some will still find the project appealing because of it; unrestricted to any interpretation, the record leaves enormous space for thought experiments and imagination (the closer “Out of Time” suggests just as much). Step back a few paces to look at it in full, and you’ll find something that celebrates freedom of opinion and individualism and is, as he said in the press, accordingly “fun without being facetious”. Somehow, it looks just fine from here.

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