If you are at all invested in the rise of PC Music and Hyperpop over the last half-decade, the name A.G. Cook is likely already familiar to you. The 30-year-old English producer, singer and songwriter formed the influential PC Music record label. He has also produced music for a variety of Pop/Hyperpop artists (it is worth noting that he produced Charli XCX’s last four projects) and is known for spearheading the abrasive and glitchy sound that has become popular in underground pop music. His work has often been criticized for being insincere or gimmicky, but with “Apple” Cook is earnest, and he proves that he has developed a truly influential style.
The album has two edges. There is the gentle, almost saccharinely sweet edge like in the song “Beautiful Superstar.” This song has all the cheesiness of a 2000’s pop-punk ballad, but in 2020 that sort of clarity and honesty in songwriting is fashionable again. “Beautiful Superstar” is one of many songs on the album to prominently feature guitar. This might seem surprising given A. G. Cook’s status as an electronic music auteur, but the guitar parts are pitched and toyed with slightly in order to convey a fresh sound, while also calling back to the nostalgia of 2008 electropop.
The other edge is the brutal, bass-heavy, dubstep inspired sound that PC Music is known for. “Xxoplex” is the most aggressive song on the album. The sort of cacophonous noise that seems in part satirical, but at its core is simply invigorating and is downright fun. Cook endlessly mutates these two opposing sides for the rest of the album. Occasionally the sound doesn't quite work, but more often than not we are given songs that sound invigoratingly new. Rock and electronic have always fused in different ways, and that combination often gets stale, but Cook breathes new life into these songs.
Auto-tune has long been a mainstay of pop music. At best, unnaturally pitched vocals become another instrument for a musician to use. It becomes a clear extension of their own artistic abilities. Few artists seem to use autotune as naturally as A. G. Cook. He has defined his career by pushing the limits of vocal pitches and synthetically altering timbre in order to critique things like consumerism and pop culture. On “Apple”, Cook reduces the songs to their essentials and purposefully alters components until it evolves into something surprisingly beautiful and heartfelt.
To say that the founder of PC Music made the equivalent of a “bedroom pop” album at first sounds ridiculous, but it fits the characteristics in spirit. “Apple” is almost entirely self-produced, and fits with the PC Music idea that anyone can create songs if they have access to a computer. Beneath the sheen and supersaws, “Apple” still glimmers as an evocative and incredibly catchy album by one of the most interesting producers in the music industry. The album evades all expectations, and yet it is perhaps the most engaging and the most accessible project Cook has ever concocted. There is depth and innovation to the production, and with little reliance on guest artists, Cook makes it incredibly easy to fall down the ecstatic rabbit hole that is “Apple.” His influences vary from Eurodance to Dolly Parton to Aphex Twin, but he never sounds kitschy. Cook proves that camp can be endearing, and excess can still be tasteful.