There’s a line toward the end of God Save The Animals that could prove disconcerting to anyone who considers themselves invested in the long-term prospects of Alex G. “How many songs am I supposed to write? Before I can turn it off and say goodnight?” he asks on “Miracles,” a twangy missive that reflects on what the future might hold — from parenthood to the possibility of watching just one more sunset. It’s never a great idea to take one of Alex Giannascoli’s lyrics at face value (he loves to mess around with perspective too much), but there is something potent and aching about an artist expressing when enough is enough. A line like that is emblematic of the devilish charm of Alex G. He knows what he’s doing there. At his best, he has a way of making the listener feel both empathetic and complicit.
His songs lend themselves to intense analysis, which is why you can easily find message board and social media threads that pore over the most minute details in his music and extrapolate from there. Giannascoli has attracted a cultishly devoted fanbase mostly by eschewing the plugged-in persona that’s expected in this day and age. Even though Giannascoli would not have become as popular as he has without the internet, he hasn’t engaged in the chronic oversharing that often comes with being too online. His songs encourage one to fill in the blanks, or project what you might need onto them. He invents characters and scenarios that are surreal and tantalizing, presenting an askance version of reality that approaches something that almost looks like the capital-T truth.
God Save The Animals, his ninth (give or take) full-length album, is his most considered work yet. Gone are the days when he would spontaneously upload a song or a whole album to Bandcamp or SoundCloud the moment it was done. More and more, Giannascoli has something to say. Often he communicates in an oblique way but, starting with Rocket, his past few albums have felt like recursive thought loops, the sticking points of someone who is trying to map out a philosophy that makes life feel worth living. As a writer and a musician, Giannascoli follows his subconscious and doesn’t think too hard about whether or not something makes sense; he often talks about the tried and true method of simply following his gut. Still, his songs adhere to their own kind of fragmented internal logic.
On God Save The Animals, Giannascoli repeatedly returns to spirituality and faith. On “After All,” he finds appeal in the steadfastness of a higher power: “People come and people go away/ Yeah, but God with me, he stayed.” He makes biblical allusions on “Blessing,” adopting the kind of grungy ’90s metal sound that would eventually be co-opted by Christian rock; he sings about walking through the mud, rising from the flood, living like the fishes. And he exudes a monk-like determination on “Mission,” listing out all the ways that he’s managed to stick to the plan: “I did good/ I stayed out of the kitchen/ I did good/ I kept it on track, yeah.” It’s a natural extension of his long-standing interest in morality, exploring the many dichotomies of what is good and what is bad. And it makes for an immersive listen, all these songs circling back around to ideas about penitence and absolution. Forgiveness, for Giannascoli, seems like a gateway to happiness and contentment. Take the lovely “Ain’t It Easy,” an elongated sigh that is, at least in part, about the simplicity of settling down to your favorite TV show with someone you love: “Season premiere,” he sings. “I have no more fear.”
Giannascoli pushes against those tidy thematic threads by throwing as many different sounds as he can into the mix. At least structurally, God Save The Animals follows a similar blueprint to Rocket and House Of Sugar: a looped, disorienting opener followed by a handful of idiosyncratic but accessible pop songs, an experimental middle that threatens to fall off the rails but never does, and a couple of warm, rousing anthems to wrap it all up. God Save The Animals is yet another refinement of that framework. It’s also the first Alex G album that was recorded in proper studios. To hear Giannascoli tell it, he simply called up studios on days when he wanted to record to see if they were available. If they were, he’d use them as a resource, a different sort of playground from his instinctive bedroom-based creative process. Giannascoli rises to the somewhat more formal setting. Similar to how his albums started becoming more cohesive when he signed with a big-name indie label, higher stakes seem to elevate Giannascoli’s craft. As a result, God Save The Animals feels more intentional, and his blender-full of sounds has never been cleaner or more bewitching.
Alex G’s songs typically move in segments, which don’t linger on a single thought for very long but are intriguing enough that you want to keep returning to them. On God Save The Animals, there are songs that deploy his trusty blasted drum machines and sped-up acoustic guitars, and then there ones that sound like they could have come out of the Yung Lean camp, and still others that feel like his own twisted take on classic rock: Springsteen, Young, Elton John. The sheer breadth of different styles and moods that Giannascoli manages to squeeze into 40-odd minutes is simply astounding; he’s gotten so adept at it over the past decade that he makes it look easy. At this point, the seams don’t even show.
He’s become an expert of the non sequitur, making the oddest turns of phrase into affecting hooks. Like on “Cross The Sea,” where his goofy, guttural “yah yah yah”s turn into something that feels cathartic to sing along to. Or in the middle of “Runner,” when the track breaks away from its punchy folk strumming and he howls: “Yeah, I have done a couple bad things!” He practices in the sort of nonsense poetry that could be read as obtuse but more often than not rings true. One of my favorites, “S.D.O.S.,” begins with a ghoulish chant amid playtronica squeaks that coalesces into a giddy, warbled refrain of “God is my designer/ Jesus is my lawyer/ Curled up in the shower/ High above the tower.” Another memorable passage comes on “Immunity,” whose narrator takes flight on a bed of piano keys: “I have to put the cocaine in the vaccine/ Walk out of the doctor with immunity/ Life of revelation catching up with me/ Go to bed at midnight, waking up at three.”
God Save The Animals is filled with these sorts of oddities, songs with tweaked-out sounds and inscrutable lyrics that take time to admire. Back in the Bandcamp days, part of what was so impressive about Giannascoli was how quickly and consistently he could churn out mind-altering music. It’s possible he’s still prolific on his own time, but he’s moved on to releasing full-lengths that are hearty enough to digest until the next one arrives. So goes this era of Alex G, whose albums have morphed into puzzle boxes that are a delight to unlock.
God Save The Animals is out 9/23 via Domino.