We have always attempted to represent the spiritual in our art, trying to replicate the supposed perfection that was stolen from us. From the saturated panels of stained glass lining the great cathedrals to the architecture of churches themselves reaching into the skies, there has always been an attraction to the sublime. Utilizing new techniques, we continuously attempt to shrink the insurmountable distance we have from God. This is what lies within A.G. Cook’s Apple. In this album, Cook utilizes the sounds and the design of this epoch to cry out to a higher power, and you could say that he’s about as successful as anyone who has tried before.

Cook’s plea to a greatness beyond us comes in the form of music that reflects the hyperstimulation and oversaturation of content and the clean “perfection” of layouts and graphic design. From there, it’s important to look to the beginning, and specifically how the idea of cyberspace was born. It originated in an ideal of utopia: computer weirdos committed to the ideal of a fully controllable, endlessly editable world constructed just the way we wanted. It was a future that had to be constructed through countless hours of coding and design, but most importantly, people had to “log on.” And now, with each passing day, it seems like those fringe “weirdos” weren’t working for nothing. We’ve only become increasingly immersed in the digital realm, scaffolding our days with more hours spent on Twitter, Instagram and TikTok. We’ve reached the point where this is the definitive locale of events and community, even more so than the outside world. What’s happening in the streets is unreal until it exists online. Spaces have always been what informs the art that arises from them, like the destitute urban communities where punk came from. Just as well then, for the internet, there was a need for the representation of our new reality. A soundtrack to the effective pandora’s box in each of our hands. Endless scrolling, endless outrage, instant dopamine, instant regret, shimmering impossibilities of what has been and could be uploaded. This space and its capabilities have only grown larger and larger: our new Tower of Babel. 

Cook’s creation of the label PC Music was fated to arise. When he set out, Cook and his cohort brought the aesthetics of the internet to their most extreme. Their fully comprehensive artistic vision gave them an edge — a new curiosity that music blogs attempted to make sense of, often deriding or critiquing their supposedly “ironic,” “hyperfeminine” style. And here we find ourselves now, seven years since the beginning of the PC Music project, in a digital landscape symbiotically growing with the music Cook himself had a hand in creating.

Apple, then, builds on this legacy. Standing on its legs with all of the conventions one would come to expect: harsh noise, syncopated basslines and glossy textures that give Cook’s music its sense of futurism. But what’s newly included in the mix is an acoustic element: guitars and dry vocals as a basis for which endless layers of digital tampering builds on. This creates the clashing of extremes PC Music is famous for, just recontextualized. The production fosters a conscious auditory experience, never allowing the listener to settle into any one particular sound for a moment because it will be thrown open by something completely different. Cook has never been able to fully settle, and that has allowed him to grow.

What Apple more subtly evokes is a sense of faith in audio; closer than what would be found in any church hymn, any Christian rock song, Cook’s predilection for intensely edited vocals communicates the sound reminiscent of angels, especially in “Xxoplex” and “The Darkness.” He raises his own imperfect voice up — flat pitches corrected, sour tones smoothed, a sort of representation of the forgiveness of original sin, embedded in this new representation of the spiritual. His sonic palette creates a dialogue between the heavens and Cook, his voice standing in for any person on earth. Electronic textures are used to paint an image of the sounds of the supernatural, and this album is the strongest tool we have to approximate what it would sound like. Again, Apple stands in the line of a long tradition of the lonely human voice reaching out to its creator. In the past, the best we had when imagining what the heavens would say back to us was in the form of choirs and the theory of music. Now, it could be said it’s in the limitless impossibilities of the digital project, we just have to take a bite. 

Contributor Vivian Istomin can be reached at vivaust@umich.edu.

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