On ‘God Save the Animals,’ Alex G’s Quirky Style Finds a New Direction: NPR
‘God Save the Animals’ Devotee Distills Songwriter’s Quirky Style
With over a decade of published music behind him, Alex G has long taken a playful, twisted approach to songwriting, as if filtering his music through a funhouse mirror. The 29-year-old artist often addresses or turns into fictional characters: insecure teenage girls and children with names like Sarah, Alina, Sandy. Flashes of storybook innocence, tales of guarded treehouses and stolen lunch boxes mingle with those of darker, adult self-destruction in his music. He has a disorienting flair for layering, pitch-shifting, and vocoding his voice and that of his collaborators into unrecognizable childish refrains and different characters, like Peanuts characters at different levels of helium. In 2019’s “Bad Man,” he sang, in an almost comedic country accent, about the “bomb drop” at age 22, a strange cowboy emerging from the shadow of the crowded artistic psyche. by Giannascoli.
It’s this style – his character studies that make him an ageless storyteller, the vocal contortion that can deliver soft indie rock one second and punk shouto the next – that has often led critics to dub the opaque, unyielding Giannascoli in the biography or the meaning of his songs. And though his changing musical approach, diverse and discohesive, has been critically acclaimed, it is sometimes felt as an obstacle to a singular artistic statement. But on his latest album, god save the animals, this rambling style finds new power, as Giannascoli wields his far-reaching musical whims with focused direction. A morally conscious record, god save the animals between good and evil, beauty and noise, with religious devotion and clarity aided by a new approach to engineering. It is the work of an artist in full artistic and professional maturity, recreating in its varied sonority the unease of someone trying to find and follow the right path in life — if such a path exists.
“People come and people go,” Giannascoli sings on the album’s opener “After All,” her voice, intertwined with that of artist Jessica Lea Mayfield, turning into an angelic chirp. “Yeah but God with me, he stayed. A current of religious references runs through most of the songs of god save the animals, sometimes to the point where it sounds like a record peppered with worship songs written by Alex G. “God is my designer, Jesus is my advocate,” he sings through an electronic vocal effect on “SDOS.” On the simple country song “Miracles”, he sings, nostalgic, of owning “better pills than ecstasy, they are miracles and crosses”. .” It revolves around the themes of judgment and forgiveness, the search for justice. By the time you get to the end of the album, in which Giannascoli sings “Forgive yesterday, I choose today”, on banjo and guitar with a voice so powerful it almost sounds like he’s about to cry in places, it’s clear that the pious tones of god save the animals aren’t just a gimmick (despite the grungy, clunky shtick of the “Blessing” video).
Frequently on god save the animals he makes the tormented weight of his thoughts literal in the structure of the music, using different or manipulated voices to emphasize in the margins of his music what the song’s narrator avoids singing in the song’s lead voice, such as s spoke in a confessional of his own making. “I did some bad thingshe repeats on “Runner,” his voice warping in contrast to the regular curve of the rest of the song, before exploding into a scream. On “Mission,” his shaky, howling backup vocal complicates the chorus. the song’s stoicism about being “trained to stick to the mission”, so removed from the rest of the music that it sounds like it’s booming from a crawl space out of microphone reach. He sings phrases that should be comforting—needle-pillow-worthy fragments dealing with ease and its bountiful blessings—with the dark, hoarse whisper of a man unable to truly convince himself of such things. combining the gothic horror of “Blessing” and the folksy “Early Morning Waiting” back to back, it seems designed to play with the listener’s assumptions, shifting in the track list as if someone were opening the curtains blackouts from a dark room to let the sun in and wake up startled any tortured thing that was there.
But for all these oddities, god save the animals also feels like the clearest we’ve ever heard Alex G. In the process of creating the record, Giannascoli, who long preferred to write and record at home, enlisted half a dozen engineers to give him the “best” recording quality for the album. And you can hear crisp clarity in a lot of songs on god save the animals: the elegance of “Early Morning Waiting”, with its faded string section, or the crisp tones of “Runner”. Not a particularly strong singer, Giannascoli’s voice is often multi-tracked and layered – a move that has invited countless comparisons to Elliott Smith – but he keeps his voice surprisingly bare here on many songs. Gone is the Yosemite Sam of “Bad Man,” and in his place is the one we hear on “Miracles,” singing of “beautiful sunsets on lost and lonely days” over sweet country. The music often sounds as serious and bare as the heavy themes that Giannascoli mines, even if it’s not presented as outright confessional. Although a number of lyrics here deal directly with the futility of songwriting and storytelling – “Hey, look in the mirror, it’s not gonna right your wrong with a stupid love song”, the Giannascoli’s own girlfriend, violinist Molly Germer, sings in the background on “Mission” — take a closer look.
This seemingly minimal technical change and the professional sound it produces is a significant step forward considering Giannascoli’s origin. His early records grew out of a moment in the 2010s when the bedroom had become an essential incubator for a new wave of indie rock, a space that gave his music an island, lo-fi charm. But as he grew from the teenage oddity of Bandcamp to a fixture on Domino Records with streaming numbers in the tens of millions and collaborations with Frank Ocean, he gradually let more people in on the process. From 2014 memorandum of understanding, Giannascoli began to get his music professionally mastered, despite his nervous reluctance, each new release sharpening his impulses without cutting corners on his eccentricities. But the high-concept style of god save the animals further pushes the intensity and maturity of what Alex G’s music can sound like. It’s fitting, for an album about analyzing the intricacies of understanding how to be a good person and making the right choices, to be open to judgment from all angles, that the production is literally more illuminating as well – corresponding to change, the album’s multi-expressed perspectives with a honed studio approach that is equally diverse.
The beauty of god save the animals lies in its trippy combinations of high contrast – the way a song like “No Bitterness” can start out as the delicate strumming of an acoustic guitar, but turn into a hyperpop noise at the end. Or how a lyric or sentiment sung with conviction one second can spiral the next with the edited twist of a voice, as if overwhelmed by a sudden wave of shame and self-doubt. All of this emboldens the album’s rippling tensions — ones that are “half love, half death,” as Giannascoli sings on “Early Morning Waiting.” Within its 13 titles, god save the animals takes every little magic trick from Alex G’s discography and concentrates them, for an album that bottles the sound of the individual teetering on the edge of sin and absolution.