Album Review: Alex G, “God Save the Animals”

Most people find it difficult to reconcile mystery and meaning. You can spend hours obsessed with the thing that deceives you, but often that doesn’t say much about your personal investment in it, the kinds of thoughts and feelings it really arouses, or how these can vary from one person to another. In Alex G’s music, as in most great art, these qualities are intertwined; you cannot get to the truth without obscuring it or distorting it a little. But due to the perceived cryptic nature of his writing, as well as his own reluctance to decode it, Alex G’s discography has been the subject of intense scrutiny and analysis that usually evades the role of the subconscious, absurdity and even of feeling. Since its debut on Domino, in 2015 Beach music, the musician otherwise known as Alex Giannascoli has brought more structure and concentration to his craft, perfecting it so that the immediacy of his melodic and aesthetic sensibility shines through. His latest album God save the animals it is the natural culmination of this, a mesmerizing record full of questions but never wrapped in them. As difficult as it is for its cast of characters to carve out a single path, it has never been easier for the listener to follow it.

God save the animals revolves around many of the same themes that have seeped into Alex G’s music in the past – morality, innocence, hope – but rarely with such vivid clarity and sincerity. Mirroring the sweet psychedelia of 2019 Sugar House but getting closer and closer to pop, it stands as his most accessible song series to date without diluting his quirky personality. Catchy tunes abound, especially in the album’s pre-release singles, but they deliver the roots of “Runner” or “Miracles” to any other writer and may instead come up with bad copies of Soul Asylum’s “Runaway Train” or any Sufjan song. Stevens, respectively. Alex G makes them distinct not only through his left-wing production choices, but by stripping them of their nostalgic potential and weaving them into the sonic fabric of the album. You might be able to trace “Blessing” back to an era when Christian rock and alternative metal thrived harmoniously in the mainstream, but I dare you that’s because you stumbled upon the New York Times profile where he talks about God and Audioslave; taken alone, it is a disorienting outlier that uses biblical language to evoke the dark boundary between impending catastrophe and transcendence.

The album is full of character and emotion, but like Alex G’s previous releases, there is more than one, even within the span of a song. Sometimes the vocal layers are typically mutations of those of Giannascoli, sometimes there are others that creep into the frame: the distinction is not very significant and is often minimized. In the opening ‘After All’, duets with Jessica Lea Mayfield, their voices bend and fade into each other with otherworldly effects, introducing the disc’s spiritual crux: “People come and people leave / Yes, but God remained with me “. To the extent that Giannacoli has discussed the influence of religion, it is through the lens of someone who testifies to it and becomes curious about how it manifests itself in people close to him. Changing perspective in the chorus, he gets to the core of how faith illuminates a person’s life: “Over the years you feel more alone / You will build the walls I climb”.

God save the animals he paints devotion as a possible antidote to horrible terror, whatever its source: the suffocating comforts of isolation, the loss of innocence, the dangers of escape. In ‘Mission’, Giannascoli’s girlfriend, violinist Molly Germer, intervenes with a meta comment, singing: “Hey, look in the mirror / I won’t correct your mistakes with a stupid love song”. The songs on the record aren’t exactly introspective or contemplative, but their wonderful demeanor reflects the openness that comes with a certain kind of soul searching, which is reinforced by the more pristine quality of the recording. For the first time Giannascoli recorded the album in several professional studios, and his playfulness has a different flavor from what he called his previous production; it seems more proactive. Characters are lost, in motion or caught in a spiral, but whenever fear or shame threatens to engulf them whole, as in “Cross the Sea,” the music pushes back, striking through the dissonance.

At this point in his career, Alex G seems equally fascinated by the power of vulnerability and subversion. “Naked in my innocence / Tangled in my innocence”, he trills on ‘SDOS’, his voice horrifying and unrecognizable, capturing a tension that runs through it all God save the animals. He delights in the directions the songs take him, like when the simple statement of ‘No Bitterness’ – “My teacher is a child / With a big smile / No bitterness” – lends itself to hyperpop joy. ‘Ain’t It Easy’ finds a similar kind of joy in the mundane, routines and conversations that keep a relationship alive. God may not be an explicit part of the picture as it was at the beginning of the album, but there is less weight in love and forgiveness. There are also questions and again: “Haven’t I given enough? When will I end love? ”Instead of chasing them, however, Alex G invites us to ride a wave of infinite possibilities.