The PC Music philosophy boils down to two things. One: Normal people can be pop stars. Two: Avoid the middle ground at all costs. Pop music becomes extreme music in the hands of PC Music’s chief architect, A. G. Cook, whose penchant for artifice has yielded concepts like QT, the fictional pop star with a fictional energy drink to promote. So it comes as a surprise that on his debut solo album, A. G. Cook strips away the glossy packaging. On 7G—a 49-track collection of songs, sketches, cover versions, and studio experiments—he hands us the keys to the studio and invites us to take a look around.
Cook’s skills as a songwriter, producer, and A&R have taken PC Music from the fringes to the main stage in the seven years since the London collective was founded. Their exuberant, abrasive tunes attracted attention for hoovering up all kinds of music usually dismissed as naff, cheesy, or empty-headed—subgenres like hardstyle, nightcore, and ’90s Europop—and polishing them as bright as a Jeff Koons balloon dog. Dismissed by some as ironic or parodic, the whole enterprise has ended up as a foundational influence on the current strand of hyperpop bubbling up at the limits of the mainstream, including neon-brushed characters like Dorian Electra, Rina Sawayama, and 100 gecs, who credit PC Music as one of their biggest influences.
Cook has released music through many aliases (Life Sim, DJ Warlord, numerous PC Music collaborations like QT and Lipgloss Twins) but under his own name, he is best known for his work as an executive producer, notably on Charli XCX’s recent run of mixtapes and albums. 7G takes a magnifying glass to this strand of his career, breaking down his work as a pop songwriter and pointing to his diverse (and sometimes unexpected) influences, from Squarepusher to the Strokes. The 49 tracks on 7G are divided into seven “discs,” although there’s no physical version of the album. (The title feels immaterial too—a wink to our high-speed future, with possible conspiratorial overtones.) Each disc takes a different sound or effect as its theme: drums, guitar, piano, spoken word, extreme vocals, and, most characteristically, supersaw and Nord, a beloved line of Swedish synthesizers. Supersaw, the waveform created by Roland for its JP-8000 synthesizer, is recognizable as the sound of trance, as well as in the fizzing melody lines that cut through PC Music confections like Hannah Diamond’s “Every Night.” And against the lemon-sharp supersaw is the soft-as-cream Nord, used by Cook as dreamy cushioning for his Auto-Tuned collaborators.
As an archival collection, 7G attempts to show Cook’s creative process from various angles—cross-sections of works in progress, from half-baked ideas to fine-tuned pop nuggets—even though the instrument-based taxonomy yields some strange sequences, with scrappy experiments followed by full-tilt anthems. Some tracks are simple sketches: “No Yeah” is a 54-second tone-poem of whispered vocals and “Drum Solo” is just that. Others offer clues to the stages of evolution that Cook’s material passes through on the way to becoming a hit: The breathily arpeggiated “Idyll” incorporates a shape-shifting riff that’s also been used by Cook’s alias Life Sim and on Charli XCX’s “Track 10.”
Some of the best bits are more like volatile lab experiments to be handled with rubber gloves: “Waldhammer,” for instance, captures what happens when you pour a test tube of Beethoven into a bubbling vat of white noise, while the digital mirage of “Note Velocity” sounds like an encounter between Steve Reich and the impossible genre of black MIDI. A cover of Tommy James and the Shondells’ 1968 psych-pop single “Crimson and Clover” pits guitars against supersaws in a Weezer vs. Scooter deathmatch; no one survives.
Scattered throughout are some fully realized compositions, complete with melodies, hooks, and intricate arrangements. “Dust” opens with ear-scraping horror chords before mutating into stompy sparklepop histrionics. “Life Speed” is a 150 BPM lap of Mario Kart, careening through checkpoints and leaving glittering smoke in its wake. “Lil Song,” a collaboration with Oneohtrix Point Never, floats along like a lullaby. The 2-step gem “Show Me What” shines the spotlight on L.A.’s Cecile Believe and her glitched-out melisma, while chopped-up vocals from PC Music original Hannah Diamond are splattered across the IDM vistas of “Acid Angel.” Outliers all, these not-quite bangers feel a bit restrained, as if they didn’t qualify for the final sprinkling of magic dust that turns a studio sketch into an all-out pop epic. (It’s likely that Cook is still incubating a full album of the latter; last August he took the mic on “Lifeline,” a jacked-up power ballad that doesn’t feature on 7G.)
Elsewhere, a handful of cover versions transform megawatt rock hits into scruffy garage-band jams, as if Cook & co. had frittered away a few empty studio hours by learning other people’s songs. And what rehearsal session hasn’t been brightened by a successful stab at “Today” or “Beetlebum”? Even a confirmed avant-gardist can appreciate the comfort blanket of an old MTV2 staple. The “guitar” disc contains several echoes of this impulse, via washed-out pop-punk (“Undying”) and an “unplugged” rendition of Cook’s 2016 single “Superstar.”
Other covers fall closer to home, including a faithful version of Charli XCX’s “Official” and a fist-pumping take on Sia’s “Chandelier” featuring Caroline Polachek, whose own experiments with artifice—particularly the way she’s trained her own voice to reproduce the glitchy textures of Auto-Tune—have made her a natural ally to PC Music’s cyborg mission. When Polachek first visited Cook’s London studio in 2017, she was taken aback by his “insane dedication” to following through on extreme ideas; that day, he was mixing a note-for-note cover of Aphex Twin’s “Windowlicker.” The scale and intensity of Cook’s ambitions are laid bare on this outsized collection, a glimpse at the whirring cogs beneath hyperpop’s pristine casing.
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