Alex G: God Save the Animals (Domino) - review | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Saturday, December 3rd, 2022  

Alex G

God Save the Animals

Domino

Sep 28, 2022 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share


It’s “too late to slow down now” sings Alex Giannascoli on “Mission.” Better known as indie-rock dignitary Alex G, the Philly musician’s creative output feels limitless, certainly, expeditious, with the release of his ninth album, God Save the Animals, in just 12 years. But, this fast evolution is daunting; he’s “run the whole world round”—presumably troubling for such a famously reserved, demure icon that remains in his home state since it’s comfortable and cheap as fuck. And when you’re perhaps one of the best examples of the ideal DIY to major label success stories, it’s nearly impossible to “stay out of the heat,” and not get at least an elbow caught in the spotlight. His lack of internet presence fails to squander his cult-like following, creating a cloud of mystique just thin enough to squint through. Nonetheless, the limelight is inescapable for such a profoundly influential songwriter, and God Save the Animals encapsulates this career-long balancing act. Though he wonders “How many more songs am I supposed to write before I can turn it off and say goodnight?” on “Miracles,” he finds faith in the inconsistencies, arousing within a spiritual understanding that the path he’s taking is jutting, fiery, even, but nevertheless inevitable. So, he might as well enjoy the views.

“People come and people go,” sings a pitched-up Giannascoli on opening track “After All,” as a twangy guitar meanders, downtrodden and aimless. “But God with me he stayed,” the voice assures, soon joined by a higher vocal that mimics a child’s choral harmony. Like the first scene of Fight Club, Giannascoli begins with the ending. Instead of a dooming gun in the mouth, God Save the Animals delivers a gulp of holy water. Yet, it isn’t all smiles and cassocks, as the bright guitar and full keys of “Runner” are offset by a momentary confessional: “I have done a couple bad things,” repeats Giannascoli until finally boiling over in a scream as a deepened, slightly goofy lower registered Giannascoli repeats “Load it up/Know your trigger like the back of my hand.”

And while these moments of vocal manipulation are inherent to the Alex G sound, here they suggest a third-party perspective, stories and voices that aren’t truly “Alex.” This rejection to autobiographize isn’t unusual for a musician without a virtual presence, a musician that routinely dons multiple personas to subvert personal fact and create a do-it-yourself narrative that obstructs unwanted intrusion. Yet, the intention this time around feels distinct as the voices feel almost omniscient, examples of narrators all finding faith in their own way, becoming their own gods. “S.D.O.S” has a low, drony voice repeating they’re “Naked in my innocence/Tangled in my innocence,” while in the same song switches to a pitched-up voice singing “God is my designer/Jesus is my lawyer/Curled up in the shower/High above the tower.” With these maskings, the door into what the “real” Alex is experiencing is cracked open, but withheld by a second bolt-chain. What you project or retract from the open space is up to the listener.

Like the pitch adjustments and lyrical perspectives, the music itself is also refined, upped in caliber with over half a dozen producers cooking in the God Save the Animals kitchen. While most tracks on God Save the Animals are simply constructed, often built around either a rambling piano or twangy plucked melody, there are stunning moments of sudden sonic shifts and digital surprises.

Throughout the years, critics have tried to describe this unique sound. He’s got sincere yet raucous guitar à la Elliott Smith, morose but discordant vocals like Built to Spill, digitized spurts of texture in a Grandaddy-like fashion. All true, but releases Beach Music (2015), Rocket (2017) and more recently, House of Sugar (2019), solidified Giannascoli’s signature with aid from producer Jacob Portrait of Unknown Mortal Orchestra. This style became a singularity—his unique blend of folk and electronic derives a sort of odd-ball rock with genuine gravitas and a distinctive signature that allows fans to identify his riffs in a less than three minute long Frank Ocean song. Like the man himself, Giannascoli’s music never fully fit into the groupings presented for him.

Here, however, these moments are more intentional; they tell stories of their own. “No Bitterness” begins with a pitched-down vocal over a somber acoustic guitar. Midi-drums start to build, violins wind and rewind, as if trying to remember the repeated hymn: “My teacher is A child/With a big smil /No bitterness,” until the song erupts into a hyper-pop finale—a lot of stimulation, but this excitement is a kind of freeing revelation, a musical cleansing and celebration. “Cross the Sea” instills strummy guitar over midi drums and synthetic atmospheres while multiple pitched vocals are en route toward some salvation. “You see now that nothing is final,” sings an autotuned voice, “I cut myself into vinyl.” Harmonies swirl around until they “cross the sea” and dooming drones fill the last few minutes of that journey, effortlessly bleeding into “Blessing,” where the only repeated phrase is: “Every day is a blessing/As I walk/Through the mud/If I live/Like the fishes/I will rise/From the flood.” These two biblical allusions are unique, the later backed by high gain guitar, making for a grungy, begrudging expedition through the act of songwriting itself. It might be worth the pain, Giannascoli seems to suggests.

And while the music drifts into more electronic territory more often than not, there are still moments of earnest singer/songwriter prowess, providing a monologue of deliverance such as that of “Early Morning Waiting.” Here Giannascoli’s vocals are untouched and he’s at his clearest: “Haven’t I given enough?/When will I run out of love?” he asks as a bluesy guitar solo slides in and out and tender violin buffers between existential questions of performance. Faith in yourself and your craft isn’t easy, the song seems to say. Perhaps in theory, but resilience falters when you have to apply it to your own life. “Forgive” then wraps it all up. “No stories/No mirrors/I choose,” sings Giannascoli over a country ramble with banjos and tight bass. “Forgive me yesterday/I choose today,” he sings almost in a half-wail, as if forfeiting, finally, to the voices in his head, the voices on the album that have been pushing him toward a new framework of, simply, living in the moment.

Over the past decade or so, listening to Alex G has become a sort of litmus test for indie-rock fans. His homemade, warped cowboy rock was once only available on Bandcamp or Soundcloud, presenting the rare shrouded type of artist only the lucky few are keyed into. But since 2014’s DSU gained the critical response, Alex G has slowly but surely peaked the attention of the masses. And God Save the Animals might be his most commercial release yet, but is still, as per usual, an unboxable album.

Like a scarecrow with a synthesizer, God Save the Animals is subsumed by domestic instruments and techniques, yet unafraid to press down on a touch-pad to emit a digital “RUFF! RUFF!” to avoid trite and protect those private, homegrown roots. It is through his multiple album methodology of letting the music speak for yourself where, I think, the incredible fan fondness mutates, as the askewed can easily be realigned and bent to support any and all perspectives. But now the allusive songwriting of impartial scenarios has expanded into more general, theoretic axioms of drudging through the mud to get where we we’re meant to be, even if it’s unwillingly. Biographical or not, if there is anything to garner, it is some new, spiritual Alex G Truisms that read like so: breathe, relax, unclench your jaw, and enjoy the ride. (www.sandyalexg.com)

Author rating: 8.5/10

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Average reader rating: 8/10



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