If there’s anything that we have learnt about Alex G over the past five years, it is that he makes what he does seem impossibly easy - at least to us mere musical mortals - and he’s at it again with Beach Music.
But if you were expecting the same brand of homebrewed lo-fi indie that you may have become accustomed to from Alex G, think again. What we get here is a much more nuanced variety of songs, marking a brave step into uncharted territory for a once bedroom-bound singer-songwriter slash producer.
That is because Beach Music is Alex Giannoscoli's first release for a "big record label" since he signed on the dotted line for Domino earlier this year. This came off the back of the critical and commercial success of last year's DSU, a quite stunning example of what proper wistful indie-pop should sound like (it even appeared on our Best Fit Fifty Essential Albums of 2014 list – if that's not an endorsement worth trusting, then I don't know what is).
It's pressure on then, right? Especially considering that Alex G has spoken openly of his reluctance give up control over the frequent and powerful waves of creativity which before now have yielded him six self-recorded albums; all of which are not too shabby at all, albeit a bit thick with the lingering atmosphere of youthful angst. But that is to be expected when you make music in your own bedroom.
So, how does Alex G fare outside his own four walls? Well, if there is one thing that sets Beach Music apart, it is the fact that all the songs were written and recorded over a relatively large span of time. While most of his previous recordings made the transition from his head to his Bandcamp page in a matter of days, this album took shape over a period of time stretching from the autumn of 2014 to the spring of 2015 as Giannascoli adapted to life as a touring musician. As such, this is an album in which every song comes from a different place, a different time, and a different source of inspiration. The result is a set of songs that muddles his staple lo-fi indie with everything from thrashy guitars to weird auto-tune and piano-laden laments.
The album begins with an intro of churning power chords which spear viciously in the direction of incomprehensible wailing before the delicate guitar strums of “Bug” set the scene for Giannascoli's trademark dude-falsetto. A brief shard of electric guitar soars into a reprise before a heavily auto-tuned vocal stint (think Alvin and the Chipmunks) ties up the album's opener.
It's in these early moments that it's easy to fear that Alex G made a bad move when he handed over his album to the professional recording studio. But this often incongruous level of post-production is a recurring theme that gives the album an overall dreamlike surrealness, one which is as playfully childish as it is jarringly haunting.
The record progresses into the pleasantly glum “Thorns” before “Kicker” gives us a taste of one of Alex G's most prominent musical influences, Elliott Smith – the legendary singer-songwriter seemingly coming to life not only in Giannascoli's voice but also in the rolling fluidity of the song's melody. “Salt” and “Look Out” are dreamlike vignettes documenting moments of unrequited love and wouldn't be out of place if positioned among the work of early 90s dream-poppers Slowdive.
One of the album's most remarkable moments comes in the beautifully composed “In Love”, a track of piano and trumpet over which Giannascoli whines a forlorn lament to “running in love, losing in love, scratching in love, wired in love.” It's a haplessly fragile portrait of a hopeless romantic, and it's uncomfortably compelling.
A change in musical tone comes on the dark and dramatic “Ready”, done in a Southern Gothic Americana style with bold bass notes and rising synth organs. Things get more obscure still on “Station”, during which a vocal backing track melts into nonsensical moans between schizophrenic drums and overwhelming guitar noise.
It's on a brighter note on which Beach Music finishes, however, with the vibrantly sounding – if not vibrantly named – “Snot”. It's more like the Alex G we know, with clearly defined guitars layered up on one another as a pensive and nostalgic melody descends into a jingle-jangle instrumental to play the album out.
How much creative control Alex Giannascoli lost in the production of Beach Music may be left to guesswork and in many ways it's an irrelevant distraction from what we have been given to listen to. More than anyone, Alex G would want this album to be listened to for what it is - an album which astounds the listener in its ability to excite the emotions. Whether it haunts you, puts you in a dreamlike state, or simply makes you hum along, Beach Music is an album which should be listened to without hesitation.