ALBUM REVIEW: Alex G, God Save The Animals
Frank Ocean is often credited with this new wave of artists making freeform music in the blurred edges between R&B and singer-songwriter music. I would tend to agree with propping him up as the posterboy, but in my opinion his sound should be credited more to a collective rather than individual effort. He has his secret weapons that he brings to turn his A- songs into A+’s. For years, Frank played that role for others, as a ghostwriter and punch-up man for people like Beyonce and Justin Bieber. As he has risen to become the star, he has been able to retain his triple threat status (singer, writer and producer) while adding in subtle collaborations. I would say aside from James Blake, Alex G has been one of the more influential voices in the Ocean sound. He featured on about six tracks off Frank’s hidden opus Endless, and added some guitar parts to iconic cuts like “White Ferrari” and “Self Control”. Like Rex Orange County was for Tyler (but WAY fucking better), Alex expanded Ocean’s sound to new heights of creativity and genrelessness.
After building up both critical and subcultural clout in the underground since the early-aughts, G has broken out to become one of the more notable artists in a vanguard that includes people like King Krule and Oneohtrix Point Never. He’s was able to maintain relevance and fine-tune his craft year after year before really popping off with records like 2019’s House of Sugar. While I don’t think Alex’s goals are to reach the heights that Frank is currently at, his new record God Save The Animals feels like a breakout moment in its own right. The backbone of this album are the melodies and choruses, making the flair added onto them justified and welcome with each new song. It’s churchlike in its use of repetition, take the first track "After All" as an example. The main line for this one is, “After all, people come and people go away”, which is sung subtly at first, then more passionately, then by guest Jessica Lea Mayfield. Like any good hymn, with time the meaning begins to reveal itself to newer contexts. “My teacher is a child, with a big smile, no bitterness” he repeats on “No Bitterness” over free flowing acoustic guitars, vast grand pianos, autotuned background vocals and a hint of backmasking. It forces the listener to deeply focus on the phrase at the center of all this heavily curated soundplay, and understand that living life with a childlike purity allows one to return to center. I remember being in third grade and a crush I liked got stolen from me. I was pretty angry for a moment, but after a day I was onto playing Halo 2 or Jet Set Radio Future on Xbox. If that happened now, it might end in a fistfight, with loads of mental torment and some much needed therapy. As we get older, the stakes continue to get higher but we must remember to have the same grace and forgiveness that we had when we were supposedly less emotionally mature. This record is about that and so much more.
I think we as humans often get so wrapped up in specifics and circumstances that we forget how important basic principles like honor, grace, humility and faith can be. God Save The Animals is a beautiful exploration of these ideas, “Mission” is all about focusing on long-term solutions rather than short-term fixes like “a stupid love song”. It’s about keeping on the straight and narrow and sticking to goals, with this misty Midwest emo atmosphere that keeps it grounded. “Cross The Sea” holds the same resilient attitude, but puts more stock in blind belief. “You can believe in me” sings in deep autotune over chunky guitar lines and shuttering metal sound effects. The end of the track perfectly fades into maybe the most bold song of the bunch, the first single “Blessing”. It’s loud and fuzzy with hushed vocals, drawing more from noise rock and horror movie soundtracks than folk. Yet it still has a hopeful spin to it all, “If I live like the fishes, I will rise from the flood”. What religious music tends to forget is the element of burn out that many people turn to God for in the first place. People in the hospital emergency rooms waiting there for hours to see their terminally sick relative are praying harder than most, for instance. I've never prayed harder than when a plane I was on was going through turbulence. This music feels more open and honest than most, painting a portrait of modern life with an emphasis on humility rather than self-aggrandizement.
While I enjoy the stylized moments like the beat switch on “No Bitterness” or Alex seriously singing “I had to put the cocaine in the vaccine” on "Immunity", some of my favorite moments feel like Americana standards. I am genuinely shocked that it took humanity thousands of years to finally produce “Runner”, it sounds like it’s been in the world's collective songbook since the beginning of time. While it certainly draws from the same blue-collar well as greats like Springsteen, it is so uniquely Alex. By this point in his career, he’s really streamlined country twang, emo tuning, rock soloing and avant-garde edge into a style all his own. While I enjoyed Rocket from 2017, it felt like he was still in the lab toiling. On God Save The Animals, he is finally having his Homogenic moment, synthesizing all the best aspects of his craft into a concise vision. “Miracles” is another one that should be covered at least a hundred times in the future by country and rock musicians. The fiddles and organ swells fill up the blank space around Alex’s ever-boyish vocals as he confronts his own finite nature and his fears of childbearing. “Some things from my past make me feel powerless” is followed by “Baby I pray for the children and the sinners and the animals, too”; something about this line just makes this record feel whole. Nothing here feels out of place or jarring even for a second, it all flows into each other thematically and musically. It just feels logical, but extremely hard to replicate or find a comparison for it.
Alex G is creating music that you can’t get anywhere else, which should be the number one goal for artists in any respective field. He uses his skills, experience and religious perspective to create an entire world to explore. This is a desert island disc, a record that is great for casual listening but one that will age like fine wine in how applicable to daily life it will become as you grow older with it. Take some time with this, put it on when you’re in different moods and I guarantee you it will become less of a music project and more of a life companion. I haven’t gone deep enough into his discography to really make this statement with certainty, but in the spirit of having faith, I venture to say this is his greatest work yet. Thank you Mr. Giannascoli.