Welcome to Beandon’s Musical Corner, the only place on campus for in-depth, exhaustive reviews of the latest releases in rock, jazz, experimental … and pretty much everything else. Brandon Rupp (also known by his mononymous musical title “beandon,” under which he releases music and DJs as KZSU’s Student Music Director) explores a new title and gives unfiltered feedback, regardless of the genre. Feel free to send him music; he’d love to take a look!
After Alex Giannascoli (commonly known as Alex G) finished his barn-burning set at San Francisco’s famous Fillmore, I watched him stay behind outside of his tour bus to sign autographs and talk with fans for over an hour. I was stunned. At the peak of his career, with numerous talk show performances, a sold-out U.S. tour and eight previous releases behind him, the modest 29-year-old began to trade knock-knock jokes with a nervous teenager.
The most common questions were from people wanting insights on his fantastic new record, “God Save The Animals” (which were followed by sly, two-word replies from Alex). There’s a certain mystery and allure to this album that has obviously captured listeners, including myself, and it’s not hard to see why. “God Save the Animals” is an important release from whom I consider the best singer-songwriter to emerge in the 21st century.
As the title suggests, the album tackles a relatively new subject for Alex: religiosity. Although earlier tracks featured abstract, juxtapositional lyrics that merely hinted at the topic — like “Baby you’re pathetic / you are god” from “Kute” — this album finds Alex exploring more of the intricacies of faith. Track names ranging from “Mission” to “Blessing” and “Miracles” all point toward his exploration of the vernacular of religion.
This is not to say that he has turned into some kind of pseudo-Christian-rock artist, though, as you get the feeling that a lot of these songs follow his usual tendency to write first-person character studies. He essentially confirms as such in a recent Pitchfork interview, even going on to say “I didn’t know [what faith meant] at the beginning of this writing process and I still don’t really know.”
Even so, the themes of this album are rich and nuanced, and they seem to creep up on the listener. Off-handed lyrics like “they hit you with a rolled up magazine” in the catchy “Runner” bring attention to the nonchalant violence we willfully inflict upon animals. At the same time, it’s in the midst of a song that seems like it’s simultaneously about both drugs and dogs, probably Alex’s two favorite subject matters. I guess this is where the “Save the Animals” part of the title comes in.
Other songs are more overt in their descriptions of religious imagery, sometimes even to comedic effect: the experimental instrumental “S.D.O.S.” features an auto-tuned Alex singing “God is my designer / Jesus is my lawyer / Curled up in the shower / High above the tower” as if they were cloud rap lyrics.
The music on this album is consistently eclectic and bizarre, which is a beautiful thing in the hands of a songwriter this skilled and melodically gifted. When the brilliant “No Bitterness” transforms from a yearning folk track to a fast-paced hyperpop climax, you never stop to question how exactly it happened. The other hyperpop track on the album, “Immunity,” features the recurring lyric “I have to put the cocaine in the vaccine” in the midst of a genuine, pitch-shifted vocal performance. Like a labyrinthian dream, there seems to be an entirely new set of logic that exists within this album’s world.
I had the chance to speak with Alex about his music, and I quickly came to learn how whimsical and sensitive he is as a person. For example, when discussing his wide-ranging influence, I told him how much of a fan my mom was of his music. He responded, in the most genuine tone possible, “A mother’s love is the utmost compliment one can receive,” as if he were reading from a tome. His demeanor was so calm and relaxed that I couldn’t believe I just saw him smash his balled-up fists onto a piano and scream into a microphone while performing the noise rock track, “Brick.” The conversation eventually derailed into a fun little chat (where, sadly, I forewent my journalistic duties).
Early Alex G music was always — unfairly — referred to in the shadow of other significant singer-songwriters like Elliot Smith, a brilliant artist in his own right. However, on this album, Alex seems to have shed most of his Elliot Smith influence, opting for a sound more reminiscent of Neil Young (if he were a sonically adventurous millennial). There’s no denying the “Rust Never Sleeps” influence in swaggering rockers like “Forgive” or the impact of “Harvest” on perhaps my favorite song from the album, “Miracles.” There are plenty of moments that recall other significant artists as well, from the Slint-esque guitar stabs of “Headroom Piano,” the plucked harmonics of Modest Mouse in “Ain’t It Easy” and “Blessing” and even the channeling of the Drain Gang with “Cross the Sea.” (I present that last one without comment.)
Even the production has seen a noticeable step up, featuring Alex in the studio for the first time. That’s right: after eight acclaimed albums, he finally graduated from GarageBand and stock presets. The pitch-shifting vocals gain a new dimension with “God Save the Animals,” ranging as wide in pitch as ever while also being purposefully deployed for the record’s various emotional highs and lows. The drums are punchy and crisp, the bass is stronger than ever and the guitar parts are luscious. A track like “S.D.O.S.,” which showcases Alex’s astronomical growth as a producer, could have never been on one of his older albums.
At the beginning of this review, I said (probably in some kind of half-hearted ploy to keep you reading) that Alex G is the best singer-songwriter of the 21st century. However, as you have probably noticed, I didn’t spend the entire piece attempting to convince you of this fact. To tell you the truth, I think it’s an entirely personal thing: I love his style of writing emotionally direct character studies with fun and abstract lyrics, his idiosyncratic approach to melody and, most of all, how he relentlessly challenges every musical convention in existence. These qualities don’t seem to go unnoticed in the strange world of TikTok, where Alex G earworms like “Treehouse” and “Sarah” have become some of the most popular (and catchy) sounds on the platform.
Alex G’s growth as an artist has truly been one of the most satisfying to track in my entire life. There’s a beauty to seeing an artist who was posting his bedroom demos on Bandcamp a decade ago performing his new hit single on “The Tonight Show.” Yes, it’s a personal thing — for me and millions of others.
Editor’s Note: This article is a review and contains subjective opinions, thoughts and critiques.