Beach Music pulled in its fair share of airwave capital this week in my and my roommate’s humble Ann Arbor apartment. Trying to form an opinion myself, I made sure to ask each of the three roommates their impression. Each usually responded with an artist-comparison. Initial responses consisted of Neutral Milk Hotel, Nirvana and Mac Demarco, the last with a multiplicity of two. Further apartmental album analysis produced cross-artist comparisons. There was a particularly nasty conflict between the Demarco / Floyd and the Elliot Smith / Nirvana camps during the cooking of chicken schnitzel one night. Tempers flared and panko went wall-ward. In days, artist-comparison depth charts were five artists deep. When we started adjusting for inflation, the apartment, now divided, decided to scrap the whole approach to save our friendships and protect the nice, clean white of our walls from further poultry bombardment.
Comparison of Alex G to his counterparts proves dangerous. Keeping the music of other musicians salient while listening to Alex G’s newest album is two-sided injustice to the music and oneself. It is very difficult to get Elliot Smith out of my head while listening to Beach Music. The average non-article-writing listener needs not seek interview verification to be certain that Alex G is indeed a fan of Smith – the music speaks for itself. It was only when I stopped putting the music through an Elliott Smith filter did I begin to appreciate what this young artist has to offer.
Beach Music is an album. It is not a collection of songs put in some random order in a squeaky polypropylene case, or a click that costs a password and $9.99. It doesn’t hope for a chart topping hit. Just in the way a book can’t be adequately summarized in its best scene or climactic moment, neither can Beach Music. It has narrative structure, compositional development and a thematic arch. It has songs that make sense where they are placed. It even has songs that don’t make sense otherwise.
Despite apprehension in doing so, it would be remiss not to pick apart some of the album’s finer moments. At track number three, “Thorns” puts Alex G’s compositional prowess in the moody, organ-padded spotlight it deserves. This song hosts a beautiful interaction between the vocals and the harmony, one light and crisp, the other dense and dreary. Interlocking rhythmic figures adorn these timbric niceties. The track’s melody is owned by neither the vocals nor the organ, but rather synthesized through their interaction.
“Salt,” also close to the album’s start, brings one of the record’s best moments. Coming off the angsty “Kicker,” “Salt” begins with the striking of three, decreasingly pitched drums ladened with cheesy ’80s reverb. “Salt”’s beginning is the coolest lame thing in my iTunes library, barring possibly the intro of Stevie Wonder’s “Take The Time Out,” of which the song is pleasantly reminiscent. The album peaks early at the junction of tracks six and seven, “Look Out” and “Brite Boy.” The two songs clash strongly, but their pairing pushes forward the subtle irony latent in the album’s later tracks. While “Look Out” is focused and melodically concise, “Brite Boy” is childish, silly and all over the place in the best of ways – almost a lullaby, but with heavy-handed, jungle drums.
This album is Alex G’s first under the new label. There was some fear that brand-name production quality might dilute the authenticity of the music, however Beach Music and Alex G seem to have made it out unscathed – a truly great album that gets better with every listen.