A.G. Cook Sends Off PC Music on a High Note with Britpop

On his third studio album, the British producer puts a reverent pin in PC Music across three discrete discs that revel in a self-referential past and outline an already-here future.

Music Reviews A.G. Cook
A.G. Cook Sends Off PC Music on a High Note with Britpop

The last time PC Music founder A.G. Cook released a record under his own name, the world had only just begun creaking from a halt. September 2020’s Apple washed ashore half a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, tangled with juxtaposed genre influences and twinkling ephemera from the flood that was 7G, the behemoth seven-disc he had dropped just a month earlier. Apple might have read as a post-quarantine tank emptying, but Cook, who has become one of the most quietly influential producers in pop music over the past decade, is nothing if not idea-rich. Four years later, Cook’s third studio album Britpop catalogs some of PC Music’s leftover wealth (the label announced last June it would stop releasing new music after 2023) before locking in on an instrument he long set aside: his voice.

Split into three distinct discs billed as the Past, Present and Future, Cook’s new record aims to make sense of it all without letting too much mist cloud his eyes. Not a greatest hits supercut but a zig-zagged roadmap through preference evolutions and knotty hyperfixations, Cook reconjures the spell cast by PC Music’s very best in seven seemingly from-the-vault tracks. Disc 1 maintains a steady dance-floor pulse without ever quite reaching the euphoria of a “Beautiful (2023 Edit)” or 7G favorite “Show You What,” the latter of which is re-tooled into the gorgeous, feedback-heavy build and collapse of Disc 1 highlight “Prismatic.”

PC Music diehards will warm quickest to Disc 1, a self-referential love letter to the label that courses with Cook’s signature deconstructed production style. Cook, the late SOPHIE and their many aesthetic children treat samples and synths like layers of water and oil that never fully settle or separate, coagulating basic tones into independent sites of creation. The technique might sound literally distasteful, but the fluid, elemental clash that defined the PC Music approach has clued in a vast swath of artists across the spectrum of pop today, with Cook producing for everyone from Sigur Rós’ Jónsi to Beyoncé. Arguably Cook’s most high-profile collaboration, with Charli XCX, has also been one of his lengthiest. Cook’s Britpop has intertwined repeatedly with Charli’s Brat rollout, across Boiler Room sets and lyrical shoutouts, both Brits shepherding each other somewhere new yet familiar and hyping each other up behind the decks—same shit, different year.

Where has all the time gone since Cook came onto the production scene in 2014 with his first single “Keri Baby”—since he was a British kid steeped in the fuzzy ‘90s soundtrack of Blur, Oasis, Pulp, and less-prominent architects like Elastica and Dodgy? Much of Cook’s inspiration for Britpop arose while the only British person in rural Montana during 2020’s lockdown period, while he was also furiously crafting 7G and Apple. The palette of Britpop’s titular era comes through clearest on Disc 2, where Cook largely trades his signature wet beats for the sort of soft harmonies and yowling electric guitar that drive “Green Man” and “Bewitched.” Although XCX sings the snipped loop that guides the title track on Disc 1, an untwisting coil of synth and snare, the clearest musical references to the ‘90s movement period appear on Disc 2, in Cook’s proposed present.

Despite her “Britpop” feature, XCX appears most prominently on Britpop’s final, Future disc—when she and her internet-native protégé Addison Rae trade lyrics on “Lucifer.” Much like Charli, Rae came up in a surge of popular young female stars who have since outpaced many of those she once played sidekick to. Featuring the duo—as recently let loose on Cook’s remix of Charli’s lead Brat single “Von Dutch”—sends a clear message about the producer’s vision for a post-PC future. The thoughtfully and collectively reared baby that is the label—which will now release archival material in place of new music—isn’t getting tossed out with the bathwater for a post-Gallagher experiment chained to refrains that don’t sound like they know what a TikTok is. Interpolation, not regurgitation, takes precedence in Cook’s hands, and to real success. On the seamlessly blended Disc 2 genre mashups “Crone” and “Pink Mask,” Cook demonstrates how these different textures intertwine in his brain, like he’s Ratatouille’s Remy exultantly biting into cheese with strawberry.

Britpop at its best turns Cook’s sometimes inscrutable playbook into a public playground, accessible to the greenest of heads and the most brain-fried of hyperpop vets. Over a rounded chorus of vaguely human, vaguely feminine hums on “Pink Mask,” Cook repeats: “Life is but a dream.” Britpop makes a strong case that the next generation of pop stars and party girls, like the rest of those patter-hearted PC Music heads Cook raised, have nurtured their own dreams living in his.

Hattie Lindert has written for Pitchfork, Rolling Stone, The Face, Los Angeles Review of Books, and more. She lives in Brooklyn.

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