Finding Focus in the Abstract

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Alex Giannascoli, better known as Alex G, has seen his star continuously rise after his Orchid Tapes label debut, DSUmade waves in 2014. Besides signing with Domino Records the following year, the enigmatic American singer-songwriter was commissioned to provide the soundtrack for Jane Schoenbrun’s acclaimed 2021 indie horror film. We’re All Going to the World’s Fair. The choice proved fruitful, as Giannascoli’s brand of painfully nostalgic indie rock elevated the film’s hazy, digital melancholy.

DSUas well as Giannascoli’s early Domino releases, retained a lot of the opaque, lo-fi sensibility of his Bandcamp-era material, and his typically solipsistic blend of confessional and abstract lyrics finds new focus on his ninth studio album, God Save the Animals. For the first time, God features prominently in the Philadelphia-based musician’s lyrics, a shift he recently revealed was inspired by his curiosity about the spiritual journeys of his close friends.

Indeed, God Save the Animals finds the already ponderous Giannascoli in a particularly inquisitive mood, and this willingness to explore isn’t just relegated to the thematic. There are numerous moments of wild sonic experimentation strewn across the album’s 13 tracks, as he extends his ever-expanding musical palette into previously unexplored territory.

Opener “After All” kicks off the album with Giannascoli’s familiar chipmunk vocals, musing about loss and faith. “Things may come and things may go away/Yeah, but God with me he stayed,” he sings through a squeaky voice modulator, backed by wistful, reverb-laden guitars. As usual, Giannascoli’s undeniable songwriting prowess, combined with his frayed singing and serrated chord progressions, renders his DIY tinkering uniquely compelling.

In a similar vein, “Runner” is a melancholic alt-jam whose mellow vocals are interrupted by a loud yelp, accompanying a blunt, vulnerable confession: “Yes, I have done a couple bad things.” While Giannascoli’s gift for hauntingly beautiful melodies was apparent early on in his career—the morbid, suburban hell of “Nintendo 64” showcased the same warped melodicism that would elevate him to indie stardom just a few years later—the one-two punch of these opening songs immediately showcases just how much he’s grown as an artist. His mumbled brand of sadcore has gradually developed into assured, flexible, and hooky indie pop.

God Save the Animals offers some surprising left turns as well. “No Bitterness” is a somber reflection on letting go of the past—”My teacher is a child with a big smile, no bitterness”—that reaches a spazzy hyperpop crescendo. Elsewhere, “Immunity” provides another excursion into weirdo-electronica, this time through compressed Auto-Tune that clashes wonderfully with the track’s sweeping, piano-heavy musical arrangement.

By the time the country-tinged “Miracles” comes around, its stripped-down take on faith, fatherhood, and life as an artist feels like a respite from the serpentine experimentalism that preceded it. “You and me, we got better pills than ecstasy,” Giannascoli sings, referring to “miracles and crosses.” The song’s belief in love, forgiveness, and empathy is deeply affecting: A lyric like “Baby, I pray for the children and the sinners and the animals too, and I pray for you” is a powerful sentiment in a world where empathy often seems to be in short supply.

God Save the Animals feels like a culmination of Alex G’s work to date, encompassing the murkiness of his early songs, the rootsiness of 2017’s Rocketand the eclecticism of 2019’s House of Sugar. It’s an emotionally and spiritually rewarding effort that grapples with life at the cusp of 30, and the questions that open up once priorities and beliefs begin to shift in unpredictable ways. Giannascoli doesn’t know more than we do, but he’s happy to offer some comfort to those navigating life’s messy contradictions.

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Label: Domino Release Date: September 23, 2022 Buy: Amazon

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