A.G. Cook Britpop Review: An Epic Expedition into Pop’s Past, Present, and Future

The album challenges assumptions about what pop is and offers an exciting glimpse of what it could be.

A. G. Cook, Britpop
Photo: New Alias

If the Britpop movement of the 1990s was defined by its brash celebration of authenticity, anti-commercialism, and, well, Britishness, the hyperpop movement of the 2010s was almost the total inverse. Characterized by heavy audio manipulation, cartoonishly catchy pop hooks, and gleefully artificial alter egos, the music released on A.G. Cook’s PC Music label openly embraced synthetic sounds and consumerist aesthetics. The title of Cook’s third album, Britpop, places these two movements in conversation with one another.

All music exists as a response to something that came before. Case in point: Britpop developed in the wake of the U.S. grunge explosion, which itself was a reaction to the extravagance of hair metal. That sort of push and pull is something that Cook has played with before—most notably on his 2020 cover of Tommy James and the Shondells’s “Crimson and Clover,” which Cook reimagined with massive saw synths and fuzzed-out guitars.

The three-disc Britpop begins by looking backward. Ever the futurist, though, Cook’s version of “the past” still sounds pretty forward-minded throughout the album. For one, early tracks like “You Know Me” and “Prismatic” move at a breakneck pace, with glitchy synths and chopped-up vocals that feel designed to rattle even the most TikTok-addled brain.

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The album’s second disc is dedicated to a more traditional approach to songwriting—and it’s here that Britpop finds its heart. A tender tribute to trailblazing hyperpop producer Sophie, “Without” consists only of Cook’s voice, guitar, and the occasional soft synth, serving as a stripped-down expression of how it can feel to move on after loss as it shifts between quiet and loud. Cook’s use of guitar and lo-fi vocal treatment creates a refreshing sense of space after the electronic onslaught of disc one, and imbues the album with a sense of intimacy.

Like Sophie, Charli XCX has served as something of a muse for Cook’s playful pop experiments, and he positions her as an oracle of pop’s future on Britpop. She’s featured both on the title track and “Lucifer,” which helps usher in the wilder sounds of the album’s final third. Here, Cook leans fully into avant-garde sound designs, from the dissonant “Butterfly Craft,” which favors formless mood over pop structure, to the chaotic “WWW,” which sounds like a rapid-fire run-through of all of Cook’s most adventurous instincts.

For as long as pop music has existed, it’s suffered complaints from naysayers who’ve dismissed it in favor of “real music” (read: guys with guitars). Hyperpop is itself a criticism of this very sort of thinking, as Cook, a pop connoisseur and self-admitted troll himself, is well aware. “People can’t agree on what pop is,” he said in a recent interview with The Guardian. If Cook’s career is defined by one thing, it’s pushing the boundaries of the genre to their limits. With that in mind, Britpop is some kind of culmination of that effort, challenging the listener’s assumptions about what pop is, and offering an exciting glimpse of what it could be.

Score: 
 Label: New Alias  Release Date: May 10, 2024

Nick Seip

Nick Seip is a Brooklyn-based writer and musician. In addition to being a music writer, he's a copywriter who helps nonprofits voice big ideas to achieve social change. You can read more of his work on his website.

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