Alex G’s voice sounds, at various times, like that of a lounge singer with a nasty smoking habit, like (I’m sorry) Elliott Smith (it’s true, though), like gravel scraping against a rubber ball, and sometimes like an NPR correspondent recording from a makeshift home studio. In the past five years or so, the Philly-based musician, born Alex Giannascoli, has uploaded more than a dozen albums, singles, and split EPs to his Bandcamp, churning out nuggets of Alex G-flavored updates with the tenacity of a courtroom reporter with an active Twitter account. Last year’s DSU was his first official studio album, a murky collection of bedroom musings that dealt with issues like growing up, breaking up, making out, and being alone. The follow-up to DSU, Beach Music (out now on Domino), doesn’t break from that mold. But it’s because of his rigid adherence to certain sounds and themes that Alex G has been able to garner a loyal following — all without ever revealing much about himself.
Here's a sad thing for sad season
If Giannascoli felt any pressure to sequel DSU with something bolder or more experimental, he doesn’t show it. But bold would feel out of place now anyway, when the sun starts to set at 5PM, when you realize you have no plans on the weekends, no barbecues, no sun, and the Fetty Wap album already came out a week ago, and soon it will be a month ago, and then it will be a year ago. This is music for shacking up in bedrooms and counting down the calendar days until the warm weather will help you feel less alone.
Beach Music is a misleadingly cheerful title; the album sounds more like an afternoon on a frozen lake. Alex G is young and a little sad, the kind of young and sad that comes in a package deal with a tallboy of Miller High Life and indoor Christmas lights. This tiny, isolated melancholy shows in his music too. Full of tape hiss and interpersonal distress, Alex G’s songs have become little Pavlovian bells of solitude for longtime listeners.
"Don't take me with you / I'm happy where I am / Tonight I wash my hands / I want to be alone," he sings on "Salt," a song with more than a hint of the Twin Peaks theme buried in its rippling percussion. On "Kicker," he mumbles near the finish, "quiet is the closest thing we got." Throughout the album, Giannascoli doubles down on that mantra, and creates little empty spaces listeners can hide in. The last 30 seconds of "Station" sounds like a toy music box slowly winding down, and on "In Love," Giannascoli pauses in between each word, forcing the listener to take note of all the extra room.
It’s hard to find anything wrong with an album that takes up so little space
It’s hard to find anything wrong with an album that takes up so little space. In a month when the top-selling albums are either massive debuts (Fetty Wap), massive collaborations (Drake and Future’s What a Time to Be Alive) or have massive staying power (Taylor Swift’s 1989, still at No. 7 almost a year after its release), Beach Music shies away from imposition. For someone who refuses to be a public figure (he didn’t have a Twitter account until last December — almost six months after his debut album was released), Alex G has an impressive following. His record release show in Brooklyn this week sold out, and his recent Reddit AMA is full of fans asking about obscure B-sides and unreleased tracks from years ago. Some of this loyalty probably has to do with Alex G’s obsessive output and relatively mysterious beginnings, but it’s also a reaction to the intimacy of his songs. He sings about pets he’s had (more than once) and he creates fictional characters who, to some extent, become the face of his music.
With Beach Music, Alex G has created something for the fans he already has, not the ones he might get. In doing so, he’s touching on something important about the state of fandom today: knowing intimate details about a musician’s life might make you feel like you know them, but knowing nothing forces you to look to the music for clues. And because these clues are sprinkled throughout his sizeable output, Alex G has a fanbase that never really stops looking.