Alex G has always been weird. Before going viral on Tiktok was a musician’s quickest path to fame, the indie singer-songwriter followed an earlier model of the internet music career, one that took place on Bandcamp, an online music service platform. Recording, producing and self-releasing music from his bedroom before signing to Orchid Tapes in 2014, Alex G is an independent artist through and through — and a unique one at that. Though his sound has inevitably progressed since his 2010 debut Race, the distinctive eccentricity of his indie folk and rock has remained consistent. Now, eight albums and more than a decade later, Alex G manages to innovate again on God Save the Animals, a stunningly unconventional collection of songs that leaves the listener simultaneously curious, unsettled and hopeful.
God Save the Animals marks a change for Alex G: It is his first album to be made in a recording studio. While the switch is made obvious by its polished production, God Save the Animals retains that touch of moody, heartfelt strangeness that makes Alex G’s work so special.
As the title suggests, religious themes permeate the album’s 13 songs, beginning with the very first lyrics of the album’s opener, “After all.” Alex G sings, “People come and people go away / Yeah, but God with me he stayed.” Biblical references like “the flood” in the eerily repetitive “Blessing,” and a “life of revelation” in the orchestral “Immunity” run brazenly alongside themes of drug addiction, self-doubt and an unexpected sense of optimism. On the bluegrass-inspired “Miracles,” an acoustic track singular in its lightheartedness, Alex G unites these topics to create the thematic center of the album: “You and me, we got better pills than ecstasy / They’re miracles and crosses, miracles and crosses.”
The diversity of the album’s subject matter mirrors its varied musical influences. Alex G’s signature vocal modulation returns on tracks like “Ain’t It Easy” and “Forgive,” while extreme distortion on “S.D.O.S.” has Darth Vader singing the listener an underwater serenade. Raucous hyperpop auto-tune is paired with piano melodies fitting the bill of a 2000s pop ballad on “Immunity.” “Runner” has a loose, ’90s alt-rock sound straight out of the One Tree Hill soundtrack, while “Mission” sounds like something from the Christian rock station you stumble upon while road-tripping.
The remarkable match between the album’s lyrical content and its sound is Alex G’s bread and butter. In an interview with Pitchfork shortly before the album’s release, he explains his use of vocal effects: “I’m trying to depict the thing physically as opposed to just saying the words and hoping the listener will come around to the image.” The idea of music as a material illustration rather than just a descriptor is obvious on an album swarming with sounds both inventive and quintessential for the indie genre, like the distorted female voice in “Headroom Piano” reminiscent of a TV Girl song, the loose strum pattern and chill drum beat of “Ain’t It Easy” or the piercing, persistent buzz that takes us from the end of “Cross the Sea” through to the start of “Blessing.”
But though some sonic elements lean toward nostalgia, God Save the Animals is chiefly forward-facing. In a world where anyone with WiFi can be an indie artist, Alex G manages to distinguish himself in the genre once again, creating something entirely new on God Save the Animals. And with the album’s futurism comes longevity. As one Genius.com user put it in a comment on “Early Morning Waiting,” “this song already feels like it’ll be an indie classic in a few years.” With his singles from ten years ago becoming Tiktok hits, it’s clear Alex G’s music has enduring power.
Taking cues from his contemporaries in a range of genres, from the folksy sensibilities of Bon Iver to 100 gecs’s hyperpop, God Save the Animals is a quiet revolution in indie music, pushing the genre forward rather than looking back. If it sounds weird, that’s just Alex G doing what he does best.
Daily Arts Contributor Nina Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.