I have been writing about music for publications for over a year now, and here’s what I’ve learned: I shouldn’t call myself a music critic. It isn’t appropriate.
Why? I do not have the knowledge to provide a reader with a full-bodied conclusion as to how they should receive a piece of musical art. I’m not being self-deprecating; I’m being honest.
Critiquing music, in an accurate and educated fashion, is an art that started to die with the rise of the digital age. The inundation of artists and their respective musical projects filled digital page after digital page on Spotify, SoundCloud, BandCamp and the like. And, like with so many other things, this started to kill the music critics because now, for better or worse, the world’s ears are constantly occupied.
So with so many comparisons to make and so many trends to follow, everyone with a keyboard became a critic. Niche blogs grew from all the digital holes in the wall. The power of so many voices eventually drowned out the power of a few truly knowledgable ones.
There are those music critics who think they are on top of the allegorical ‘all.’ To them, I say: stop kidding yourself. There are those constantly trolling the music sites, listening and re-listening to albums and artists of similar or non-similar genres to find some new trend. To them, I say: stop trying so hard.
I can critique these individuals because I am one of them. I’m trying to stay on top of it all, to no great avail. And I’m trying to find something out of nothing, to no great success. I wish I would stop, and I think the great Alex G would, too.
Alex Giannascoli grew up in Havertown, Pennsylvania. In high school, he studied the stylings of Radiohead and Modest Mouse, stole the CDs of his siblings and had a couple high school bands. He followed a route similar to so many up-and-coming artists — he followed what he felt. He treated the music as something precious, almost holy.
“To me, I always considered music pretty sacred,” Alex said in a phone interview with The Michigan Daily. “I love it to the max. So it makes me feel pretty strongly when people focus on the shit that doesn’t matter.”
Alex G is one of the 21st century artists whose music grew into the digital age. His incredible guitar-based instrumentations and angsty, but preciously poetic, lyrics made it past the modern barriers of quantity over quality. In an arena of so many artists and their respective aspirational projects, Alex G rose up ever so slowly into the spheres of popular music discussion. He wasn’t one of the first, but rather one of the few, to rise to fame through the random, indecipherable avenues of the Internet. There is so much to be gained in that ascent, and so much to be lost.
“The positives are pretty obvious: I gained this following without any promotion on my part,” Alex explained. “The downside is uh, I don’t know. I don’t like all of the coverage of the music. It sucks because that’s what helped me so much — all these different outlets covering my music, but now it seems like it is cheapening the music in some way. When they have so much shit going on, and when there are all these publications writing all these little bits — there is all this saturation. There isn’t a lot of mystery anymore, either. So much of the appeal for me is when I find an artist and the only thing I knew was their story, with what they were saying in their lyrics.”
The art of defeating the barriers of the digital age has been mastered by Mr. Alex G, though he would never accept that praise. Alex knows the fight for authenticity, and the fight to stay as true to oneself as possible. Because he’s still unsure, too, if all this coverage is a good thing.
“Maybe it’s a good thing, maybe it will make artists more accountable,” he said. “I don’t know, I think we are starting to lose a lot.”
And he’s right. There is no way of saying just yet, but there are grounds to wonder: what is going to be lost in the digital explosion? When everything is accessible, and when everyone has an opinion, are we gaining everything? We have to be losing something, right?
Here’s the only way to combat it: focus on the music.
Alex G’s early work was recorded in his college dorm room. With a basic understanding of music production via one’s computer, Alex nursed a couple tracks to indie rock perfection within the four walls of his room at Temple University. And then he put them on BandCamp. And that honest, self-satisfying process continued as Alex rose to slow, intangible Internet fame.
Those angsty swinging guitar sounds and unapologetically storyline lyrics about frustrated emotion, lost people and indescribable anxieties hit the web and played into the ears of those who still held a candle for the dying indie rock music world.
“I guess it’s half and half, most of the time it stems from a real experience or something that I really have the urge to write about,” Alex said. “But I will morph a lot of them so that they aren’t direct attacks on someone that I know. It usually does come from something real. I do want to write something well, and if it isn’t real I don’t think that I can write it as well.”
So Alex dropped out of college and became one of the indie world’s full-time saviors. Alex and his band released their most recent album, Beach Music, in October of last year. They’ve been touring the album ever since. And they aren’t worried about going anywhere too fast, and they aren’t too worried about pleasing anyone but themselves.
“Yeah, I mean we are trying to incorporate some new stuff — we’ve got a keyboard now that the guitar player is fooling around with,” Alex confessed. “I don’t know, it’s going to be hard to make any drastic changes. Some people might say: oh yeah it’s all guitar music, but to me it sounds completely different. It’s different to me. But to some, it could be all the same. I guess it’s all the same, either mostly guitar-based or piano-based.”
So stop overthinking it, everybody. Stop obsessively analyzing and just sit back and enjoy. Alex and his band want you to know that you don’t need to let the overwhelming nature of the Internet kill your joy. They're pouring their hearts, personas and experiences into something that you can love or hate. They can give you something to hold a candle to, or they can give you something to scoff at and ignore. They don’t care what you think, but you’ll probably post about it on some blogger site anyway. You will paste your thoughts onto something, next to three million other unnoticed, unimportant and unvalidated opinions. Just like this one.
Alex G will be performing at MO POP Music Festival this summer in Detroit, Mich. Tickets available at www.mopopfestival.com.