The Student Playlist

Showcasing the Best New Music, Curating the Classics

REVIEW: Alex G – ‘Beach Music’ (Domino)

Front cover of 'Beach Music'

Front cover of ‘Beach Music’

by Ed Biggs

Philadelphia songwriter Alexander Giannascoli, recording under the name Alex G, released six albums of self-recorded, bedroom-spun indie in five years, beginning in 2010 with RACE and ending in the impressive but occasionally messy DSU 16 months ago. That quiet, consistent effort and its charmingly self-effacing results have brought him to the attention of Domino, one of the biggest and most prestigious indies in the game, giving him the opportunity of a much greater platform for his talents. Though he has better equipment at his disposal, for Beach Music he’s opted not to stray too far from the lo-fi approach that has earned him his small, devoted following so far. In interview, he’s said about having access to a full studio is not something he’s quite ready to do yet. “I feel like I’m eventually going to have to do that, but I just don’t want to… …I don’t want anyone else to have control. I just want to follow my own ideas.”

And so, while the sound is a little more polished, Giannascoli’s strategy of sketchy, consciously unfinished tracks is very much business as usual. After an unusually cacophonous intro track, ‘Bug’ settles down into his favoured method of operation, with his vulnerable, Elliott Smith-style vocals couched in acoustic guitars and hiss. On ‘Thorns’, you can actually hear his fingers squeaking along fretboard. This approach continues throughout the first half-dozen tracks, which disappointingly feel like thumbnail views of something more intricate and fail to catch fire until the second half of the record, when Giannascoli begins to explore his ideas a bit more. The meandering ‘Salt’ fails to go anywhere interesting, but the five-minute closer ‘Snot’ and the beautiful clarity of ‘Ready’ indicate new, perhaps more ballad-like territory he might occupy in the future – albeit with his skewed take on it.

The pitch-shifted vocals that Giannascoli occasionally uses in order to illustrate different characters seem irritating and gimmicky at first, but this kind of messy presentation works on closer inspection. He tunes himself up to embody a female object of the protagonist’s affections on ‘Brite Boy’, with its dragging beat and faint Americana feel, and lowers his voice on ‘Station’ to be a homeless man holding up a gas station. The actual duet with Emily Yacina on ‘Mud’, a moment so subdued and intimate that you can practically hear the candle guttering in the background, and the chilled DIY-indie vibes of ‘Walk’, are the highlights, and represent Giannascoli’s strongest suits. However, there’s no real indication that he’s expanding his arsenal, making Beach Music a satisfactory display but no more. (6/10)

Listen to Beach Music here!

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