Prior to 2020, A.G. Cook sprinkled his own releases among the many projects he worked on with other artists. That year, however, he unleashed a flood of music, starting with 7G, which was presented as seven sprawling volumes dedicated to the essential ingredients of his music-making and as a seven-minute megamix. Both were perfect representations of the dizzying style he forged with PC Music, as a collaborator with artists such as Charli XCX, and on his own. Not long after, his self-described second debut album Apple appeared. After exploding his music on 7G, here he reassembles it into a surprisingly accessible blend of electronic noise, pop theatrics, and indie balladry that balances his work as a singer/songwriter and producer.
While the album's title is Apple, it still gives equal weight to each part of PC Music's full name: This is music that's extremely computerized and extremely personal in the way technology is used. Personality has always been a major element of Cook's music, even if much of his work has been in service of a pop star like XCX or the facsimile of one, like Hannah Diamond or GFOTY. This time, his own persona, equal parts playful and vulnerable, emerges. If Apple's pop songs sound a little like they were generated by AI, that's part of the point. The familiar chords and acoustic strumming of "Oh Yeah" signify earnestness -- as do lyrics like "never felt so alive" -- but in Cook's hands, they do have a genuine impact. When he returns to this sound later on "Jumper," it's wobbly, as though its illusion of reality cannot hold. Elsewhere, he puts his own stamp on the volatile electro pop he's crafted for others. "Lifeline" is a cyber power ballad for an arena of fans holding glow sticks aloft instead of lighters; the soul-bearing vibe of "The Darkness" feels akin to XCX's more revealing songs or Cook's friend and collaborator SOPHIE's "It's OK to Cry." The songs Cook covered on 7G were among that album's brightest highlights, a trend that continues with Apple's reworking of Oneohtrix Point Never's "Animals.'' Cook remains true to the original's slurred angst, but he transforms it into a more universal expression of catharsis than might have been expected when the song first appeared on Garden of Delete. Cook's proven skills as a producer are also well represented. At once harsh and whimsical, "Xxoplex"'s spiky surfaces provide plenty of contrast to the album's soft, confessional pop. His famously jarring transitions become lulling on "Airhead," while "Haunted" builds from wisps of acoustic guitar into luminous processed harmonies courtesy of HYD and Caroline Polachek. Though Cook creates both of Apple's sides ably, juxtaposing them keeps the album engaging and makes it a successful entry point to his music. Happily bridging the gap between synthetic and organic, Apple is one of Cook's most satisfying obliterations of the borders between genres, authenticity, and artifice.