"A record of isolated worlds": Inside Alex G.'s 'God Save The Animals' - WXPN | Vinyl At Heart

On May 23, Philadelphia indie rock mainstay Alex Gianniscoli — who has over the past decade become an indie celebrity under the abbreviated Alex G. — gave us the first taste of his upcoming record God Save The Animals in the form of nightmare-inducing single “Blessing.” This isn’t a critique, but a fact. “Blessing” is an assault; an unsettling drone blended with light-flickering synths and stabbing act breaks. “Every day is a blessing as I walk through the mud,” Alex G sings in a nefarious whisper, the voice at the end of the other side of a cut phone line. Then, over three months later, on September 8, Gianniscoli presented the final sneak peak of God Save The Animals, an introspective, achingly vulnerable, sunset of song titled “Miracles.” This is the Alex G that has emerged nine albums and over 12 years into his career; spell-binding, cryptic, and endlessly fascinating. God Save The Animals is all those things and more, another entry into a singular discography and just a little more of peak behind the curtain that is Alex Giannascoli.

I first fell in love with Giannascoli’s music back when I interned here at WXPN, right around the release of 2015’s Beach Music. I didn’t know it at the time, but this was a particularly important moment for his career, a line of demarcation that, looking back, splits his career into two separate entities. Beach Music was not only the first record Giannascoli released on Domino Records, but also marked the end of his, for lack of a better term, “Bandcamp days.” 2010 to 2014 saw Giannascoli release five albums, a few EPs, and a handful of singles, all straight to Bandcamp in the kind of flurried, imperfect way that signified tons of “bedroom pop” in the early 2010s. This was around the time Giannascoli was attending Temple University, building a name for himself both within the Philly DIY community and the world of the internet, where his reputation was growing from a whisper to an impassioned scream.Beach Music was the moment Giannascoli’s reach started to expand, garnering him more widespread critical acclaim and, eventually, landing him a chance to play alongside pop icon Frank Ocean on his dual 2016 releases Endless and Blonde. Though Giannascoli has slowed down a bit since Beach Music, taking a more measured approach to the album cycle, he has never abandoned the lo-fi recording and playfulness of his early work. 2017’s Rocket, for example, took Giannascoli’s more acoustic songs and injected them with a bit of DIY country, while 2019’s House Of Sugar saw him experiment with more industrial, beat-driven work.

Alex G - Runner

Which brings us to God Save The Animals, an album that, in many ways, brings together the disparate parts of Giannascoli’s discography to this point, creating a record of isolated worlds, formed and shaped by its mad-scientist creator. There are beautiful, idyllic songs, like the nursery-rhyme, voice-pitched opener “After All,” and then there are songs like “S.D.O.S,” which spins the dial in the opposite direction, equally entrancing but constructed of entirely different materials. If you have followed Alex G. from his Bandcamp days, through his (SANDY) Alex G phase, and into now, you’ve probably become accustomed to this kind of variation. Audience expectation can play such a big part into how fans engage with an artist, reacting against what they want sometimes more than the artist themselves, but for Alex G fans, the expectations has to become a lack thereof. You love the Spotify-formula hit “Sarah”? Well here is something completely and utterly different.

Looking through the many profiles and Q&As Giannascoli has done throughout his career, there seems to be one thing that always bubbles to the surface, a standard he seems to hold for his music, a goal that sounds as difficult to correlate as his unique style. “I’m trying to capture a feeling more immediately,” he told Pitchfork during an interview previewing the release of God Save The Animals. “I’m trying to depict the thing physically as opposed to just saying the words and hoping the listener will come around to the image.” One of his pervading strategies to accomplish this has been vocal modulation. Whether it’s the high-pitched, almost boyish modulation on “Brite Boy” or the twangy autotune of “Bad Man,” he has found as much creative inspiration in these clever little tricks than in any one instrument. Unsurprisingly, it’s something Giannascoli returns to again and again on God Save The Animals, warping not only the sound of the songs themselves but the perspective from which he arrives at his stories or burnouts, dreamers, and castouts.

But even the stories themselves are far from straightforward. A song like “Mission” may start with the line, “I’ve run the whole world round, too late to slow down now” — seemingly a reference to Giannascoli’s life as a touring artist — only to be interrupted later by a second voice, intent to chime in with harsh reminders. “Hey, look in the mirror, ain’t gonna right your wrong with a stupid love song.” Some songs are so spare as to contain on a line or two, like “No Bitterness,” but remain just as cryptic all the same. “There are lots of different voices, but they’re not exactly fully-formed characters,” Giannascoli told GQ around the release of 2019’s House Of Sugar. “I think the beauty of it is that it’s like a Rorschach inkblot.”

Alex G - Blessing

Does this keep fans a bit at arm’s length? Maybe. While Giannascoli doesn’t seem to be intentionally aloof, he also isn’t particularly interested in explaining himself to any satisfying degree. At the same time, this mysterious and sometimes enigmatic facade might actually be what drives such rapid fandom on the part of his ever-growing cohort. Just take a quick look at the extensive Reddit page devoted to interpreting every tossed off line or unreleased song to give you an idea. His unwillingness to pander, or otherwise give into fan-service, is especially appreciated in a city like Philadelphia, who love nothing more than an artist who doesn’t try too hard to be loved.

But all that has more to do with his outward facing persona. Within the scope of his own music, Giannascoli continues his career goal of balancing competing forces in a way few musicians can muster. God Save The Animals is somehow both instinctual and perfectly crafted, inspired and calculated, demanding and accessible. All of which is an attempt, it seems, to capture not what Giannascoli may think about a given subject — may it be God, innocence, or any number of burning questions — but the way the thought itself forms and feels. “I have like, a feeling and I make music to match this thing, this feeling. It’s extreme. It’s like not being able to deal with the way reality is,” Giannascoli told The Fader all the way back in 2014. God Save The Animals, it turns out, is just one more step in Alex G creating a reality all his own, one that offers all of us an escape.

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