Feature image courtesy of Getty Images
By Christine Naprava
“Sarah runs to feel the burning in her lungs.”
Those are the first words Alex G ever sang to me. I was deep into David Dean Burkhart’s YouTube channel (more about that later) and admittedly, it was the vintage thumbnail that drew me to the fan-made “Sarah” music video. I clicked, I watched, I listened, I absorbed. The song wasn’t the weirdest I’d ever heard, but “Sarah” was definitely weird, specifically the peculiar vocal delivery. I had to know more about this artist, Alex G. Thanks to “Sarah,” I fell down the Alex G rabbit hole and kept falling and am still falling to this day.
Alex G’s full name is Alexander Giannascoli. He’s twenty-nine and reigns from Havertown, Pennsylvania, which is located nine miles west of Center City, Philadelphia. He’s a musician, singer-songwriter, and producer who’s been making music since he was a young teen either on his own or as part of a band. From 2010 to 2012, he released several albums, EPs, and singles on Bandcamp, eventually gaining popularity via word of mouth, blogs, and praise from fellow musical artists. In short, Alex G is an under-thirty musician of humble origins who, despite his widespread popularity, remains extremely humble and original to himself. Think of Alex G as an old friend of yours from high school who now makes one-of-a-kind music adored by millions. People all over the world know his name, but he’ll still grab a beer with you at a local brewery and show up in a t-shirt and baseball cap.
King Krule is my favorite English alternative artist and Alex G my favorite American alternative artist. That’s if you can even consider Alex G an “alternative artist.” Like King Krule, Alex G is an enigma. His music is outlandish and unlike anything you ever have or will grace your ears with, but if I’m going to slap labels on his music, then I’d say the genres that best describe him are indie rock and indie-folk. The aforementioned genres are extremely evident in nearly every one of his songs, and I’d even go as far as to say Alex G is the king of American indie. He’s indie with a twist, but indie nonetheless.
Compared to other indie and alternative artists, Alex G has a substantial discography. He’s got eight studio albums, one live album, one soundtrack album, two EPs, and nineteen singles to his name. Alex recently scored the American coming-of-age horror drama film We’re All Going to the World’s Fair. This is the first time Alex has ever scored a film, which serves as proof that a new era of Alex G is upon us. His latest single “Blessing” further proves that Alex G is undergoing a you-won’t-want-to-miss transformation, but in this article, I’m mainly going to focus on old-school Alex G songs that feed my soul. Since Alex G is one strange musical artist, I’ve organized my below favorites from most normal to least normal.
“In My Arms”:
“In My Arms” off of the album House of Sugar is a song to kick back to. The instrumental intro is slow-paced and about thirty seconds long, giving listeners ample time to sink in and get comfy. You might be tempted to tip your head back and close your eyes or drum your fingers on a nearby surface. “In My Arms” retains a fairly even pace up until the one-minute and fifty-two-second mark. The buildup comes on suddenly and the flawlessly-executed release consumes you whole.
With the faster-paced part of the song comes an intensity and urgency not evident earlier in the track. This buildup and release are portrayed perfectly in the “In My Arms” music video, which takes place in my stomping grounds of Atlantic City. The music video was shot entirely at night and features scenes filmed inside a limo and a casino, on the streets and boardwalk, and even in the Atlantic Ocean. As far as that perfectly-portrayed buildup and release I mentioned above, I’m talking about the one-minute and fifty-two-second mark on forward. I’m not going to spoil the ending of the video for you, but Alex G may or may not make it out of the Atlantic Ocean alive.
Alex G can be sweet and sentimental when he wants to be, and “Southern Sky,” which is also off of House of Sugar, is a prime example of just how sweet and sentimental he can be. I’d be lying if I said I knew what Alex is singing about in this song. All I know is that “Southern Sky” sounds sentimental, feels sentimental, and, at the risk of sounding like I’m in a Men’s Warehouse commercial, you’re going to love the way this song makes you feel, I guarantee it.
When listening to “Southern Sky,” you’ll notice that Alex G is not the only singer in this song. He often employs the vocals of Philadelphia-born-and-bred musician and songwriter Emily Yacina in his music. In “Southern Sky,” Yacina carries the entire chorus. Alex knows exactly what he’s doing when he incorporates Emily in one of his songs. Their singing voices differ just enough to offer contrast and complement each other so well.
The pacing of “Southern Sky” is so consistent that you could easily clap your hands or snap your fingers along to it. Only does the song begin to switch up on listeners at the two-minute and thirty-five-second mark. By this point in the song, there haven’t been any vocals for roughly thirty seconds and the track remains strictly instrumentation until the very end. “Southern Sky” winds down before arriving at a satisfactory finish. If you’re anything like me, then the soft, sweet outro may be enough to choke you up.
Before I move on to the next Alex G track, I must dedicate some space to the “Southern Sky” music video. It’s an animated masterpiece that revolves around a cast of adorable, nonhuman cartoon characters. The first time I ever watched the music video, all I could think was: a video with an all-human cast would’ve never worked for this song. That’s the charm of Alex G. He gives listeners what they didn’t know they needed.
Since Alex G has an extensive discography, even the most dedicated fan can overlook a song or two. I am that dedicated fan and “Advice” is that overlooked song. I was already a fan of many tracks off of Alex’s fourth studio album Trick, but for some reason, I never paid “Advice” any mind. As with many Alex G songs, “Advice” is fairly steady almost the entire way through. At the two-minute mark, the song picks up pace and intensity and for that reason, I credit the final thirty-eight seconds of “Advice” as the selling point of this song.
You might be wondering why I consider this song less normal than “In My Arms” or “Southern Sky” and that one-hundred percent has to do with Alex’s vocal delivery. Alex loves to alter his singing voice for the added effect and in “Advice,” listeners get a higher-pitched, more ethereal Alex in certain parts. Even Emily, who sings a verse in “Advice,” has altered her vocals, making them lighter and airier to match the feel of Alex’s.
I’m going to use “Advice” to make a brief yet important point. This is the first song on the list (and far from the last) that features a one-word title. This might not seem significant, but almost every Alex G song title consists of a single word, lending to his iconic simple-yet-striking musical style.
Don’t let the disgusting name fool you: “Snot” off of Beach Music is one of my top Alex G songs. Boy, do I love what Alex does with “Snot.” The instrumental intro of the song sounds more like the middle of a song, so much so, that the first time I ever listened to it, I thought I had accidentally skipped to the middle. “Snot” is one of Alex’s longer songs and features one of his longest intros. At thirty-seven seconds, listeners are given over half a minute to get a feel of how “Snot” is going to unfold.
Besides the disgusting title, you might be wondering what made me place “Snot” in fourth place on the list. Again, it’s Alex’s higher-pitched, more ethereal vocal delivery, which creeps up now and again throughout the song. To get a feel of what I mean, listen closely at one minute and twenty-nine seconds as Alex proclaims the following: “I love him and 666. I want him to make me sick. My love comes with my snot. I’m all in and he’s all out.” The lyrics are peculiar and so too are the way in which Alex delivers them.
It may be hard to believe, but those are the final lyrics in the song. The remaining three minutes and ten seconds are all instrumentation, making this the ideal Alex G song to roll down your windows to and just cruise.
I opened this article with “Sarah,” so it’d be a crime not to circle back to her. This is yet another Alex G song with an over thirty-second intro. The instrumental intro promises a seemingly cheerful tune about a girl named Sarah and Alex G gives listeners precisely that.
In this Trick track, Alex’s vocals alternate back and forth between weird and weirder. He’s borderline nasally in some parts and extremely high-pitched in others. Alex sounds like a teenage boy singing about his beloved high school girlfriend and so the aforementioned versions of his singing voice work and work well.
This is one of my favorite Alex G songs to sing and dance along to. The lyrics are gold, specifically when Alex sings, “Every day I’ll make promises that plague Sarah’s heart so I can watch her fall apart.” Combine these rhyming lyrics with the David Dean Burkhart music video, which is an expertly pieced-together montage of vintage educational health films for girls, and you’ve got quite the listening/watching experience on your hands.
Earlier in the article, I promised I’d go into detail about David Dean Burkhart’s YouTube channel. David used to create killer music videos from movie clips and home videos, but now he’s shifted to creating music videos from scratch, in addition to posting the audio of newly released indie and alternative songs. If it weren’t for his channel, I might’ve never discovered Alex G.
Rarely do I listen to “Gretel” off of House of Sugar without watching the nostalgia trip of a music video and rarely do I discuss a song’s music video before I discuss the song itself. The video is that good. The bulk of “Gretel” features footage from a demolition derby, as well as shots of Alex and two young boys galivanting in the lush, green countryside. The video ends with Alex and the boys being driven through the countryside in the bed of a pickup as the sun sets all around them. The joy depicted in this video is contagious and I can’t recommend watching it enough.
Now it’s time to sing this song’s praises minus the music video. The intro is two-fold. For roughly twelve seconds, listeners get instrumentation infused with eerie, unsettling vocals. Around the thirteen-second mark, the vocals drop off, and for the next twenty-eight or so seconds, listeners are presented with only instrumentation. The lyrics in this song are sparse but impactful, the most impactful being, “Good people gotta fight to exist.” Although this House of Sugar track takes a sweeter, softer turn at the one-minute and fifty-three-second mark, “Gretel” remains an upbeat song with serious ominous undertones until the very end. The lyrics in the bridge (“I can see it right there right in front of me”) are repetitive, and like the lyrics in the intro, they’re extremely subtle and play second fiddle to the instrumentation. In the outro, the instrumentation quiets down slightly so that the vocals can haunt you long after the song has ended.
The song and corresponding music video for “Blessing” were released on May 23, 2022, making this the newest Alex G single and music video. I think I watched the video a mere three seconds after Alex announced its arrival via Instagram. Here’s what happened: I watched and listened to the first nineteen seconds of “Blessing” and thought, “Oh yay, this sounds like OG Alex G!” That all changed at the twenty-second mark. “Blessing” completely transformed from that point on. The song didn’t sound at all like Alex G. I began to panic. My panic was heightened when I discovered that Alex G wasn’t sporting his signature long hair in the music video; his hair was short and spiked. I played fair. I listened to the song all the way through and then I did both myself and Alex a favor and listened to the song again. Something shifted. I was in love.
Since I’ve already mentioned the music video, let’s start there. Lighting and all the ways you can play with it is what first drew me into “Blessing.” The way in which the video is shot is the second factor I fell in love with. “Blessing” is filmed in a way that makes you feel as though you’re in the video. Watch it for yourself and you’ll see what I mean.
There’s a lot going on in this music video; therefore, it would take me way too long to unpack it all, but here’s some aspects to look out for that I couldn’t take my eyes off of: the footage of the baby, the way Alex holds his mouth when he’s singing, the footage of the dogs, the girl throwing an item of clothing at the camera, and the girl with her hands on her head.
As for the song, it’s not typical Alex G and if this is any indication of what his new album is going to sound like, then I’m so here for it. The instrumental intro is brash and I don’t advise listening to it on full volume unless you want your eardrums to hate you. At twenty seconds, “Blessing” simmers down suddenly and takes on a whole other sound, which is less indie rock and more hard rock n’ roll. The song begins to sound more like Alex G once the lyrics come into play. In “Blessing,” Alex’s vocal delivery−a chilling whisper−is reminiscent of the Alex fans have come to know and love. For me, his vocals were a buoy in unfamiliar waters the first time I ever listened to the track.
With the instrumental break between the first and second chorus comes the return of the brashness present in the first nineteen seconds of the song. “Blessing” simmers down again before reaching what I feel is the best part at one minute and fifty-six seconds. The instrumental outro is all guitar and drums and, for the first time in the song, synthesizer, giving “Blessing” an unexpected 80s feel.
“Gnaw” off of Alex G’s first studio album Race is a fast-paced song teeming with nervous energy. The forty-five-second instrumental intro is supposed to make you feel extremely unsettled, as are the remaining two minutes and thirty-seven seconds. The lyrics are bizarre and Alex’s vocal delivery not surprisingly matches that bizarre energy. He evens howls in this song, and the outro features what I can only describe as yelps or hiccups.
“Gnaw” is relatively upbeat and steady until the two-minute and eight-second mark. The track slows and grows slightly less anxious for a few seconds before returning to its full-on nervous state. Alex sounds as though he’s attempting to gain his footing in this part of the song and isn’t sure where he wants “Gnaw” to go. While this might sound sloppy, Alex executes it without a glitch.
“Gnaw” has no formal Alex G music video, but David Dean Burkhart created one and it’s delightful. The video is age-restricted and composed of home horror movies that Kurt Cobain, Dale Crover, and Krist Novoselic shot back in 1984. Need I say more to convince you to watch it?
Perhaps if all folk music sounded like “Bobby” off of the album Rocket I’d be a bigger fan. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good folk song now and then, but it’s far from my favorite genre. Some fans will argue that “Bobby” is more country than folk, so, to please the masses, I’m going to consider “Bobby” Alex G’s most country-folk song.
Alex’s flawless stab at country-folk is one of his most consistent tracks in that the beginning and middle of the song sound very much like the ending. The only noticeable difference between the beginning and middle of “Bobby” and the end is that the glorious violin that can be heard throughout the track gets a solo for the last fourteen or so seconds of the song. Reminiscent of some of the best country-folk songs ever created, “Bobby” is slow-paced, even-keel, and predictable, making this the ideal Alex G comfort song if you’re in search of one.
Now allow me to unpack my favorite parts of “Bobby”: the vocals and the lyrics. Alex G wisely invited Emily Yacina to aid him in making this track all that it is. From the opening lyrics to the closing lyrics, Emily’s vocals can be heard blissfully backing Alex’s. In typical country music fashion, Alex and Emily are singing to their lover about their discontent with their romantic partner. The first set of lyrics that make me wish “Bobby” was also a short story are, “He wakes me when he goes to work. His hands are cold. His breath is smoke.” To get the most out of these next lyrics, which are repeated not once, but four times in the chorus, you really need to give the song a listen: “I’d leave him for you if you want me to.” And I leave you with probably the most poignant, gut-wrenchingly realistic lyrics in the entire song: “Do you forget when we first met? You grabbed my hand. I tore your dress. I felt things I cannot express. But I lost my way. I made my mess.”
I discovered this next Alex G track, which is also off of Rocket, through an NSFW David Dean Burkhart music video. The thirty-nine-second instrumental intro is equal parts disquieting and medieval. I don’t think I’ve ever used the word “medieval” to describe part of a song, but whenever I listen to “Witch,” all I can think of is Alex G traveling back in time and performing this song for a king and his court.
The disquieting, medieval intro gives way to one powerful set of opening lyrics: “Dirty old pig. He lost his mind.” There are very few lyrics after this. Alex takes what sparse words “Witch” has to offer and stretches them out, delivering them calculatedly and in an altered singing voice. From the one minute and thirty-six-second mark to the very end of the song, a spooky voice sings, “No matter what you do−” Alex immediately finishes this statement by singing, “−the witch burns you.” These eerie lyrics are repeated over ten times before the song comes to a close.
If you happen to be making an action movie and are looking for a song to accompany the most intense scene in your film, then “Brick” is the song for you. This is hands down the most badass Alex G song to date. It’s unlike any of the softer, more subdued tracks on Rocket. YouTube account holder Gabriel Rabelo perfectly summed up “Brick” when he commented the following on the official audio: “Although the rest of the album has nothing to do with this song, I’m just glad it exists.” Well said, Gabriel.
“Brick” is quick and dirty and fittingly enough, the art for the official audio features a rabbit with fierce black eyes mid-sprint. The song is only two minutes and twelve seconds long and therefore warrants one replay after another. In addition to being quick and dirty, “Brick” is brash, hectic, and unnerving and definitely not a song you want to listen to if your nerves are already shot. Alex G has plenty of songs to tune in and drop out to, so I suggest you save “Brick” for those days when you need a pep talk and have no one to give it to you.
In this song, there’s the lyrics that Alex shouts and the lyrics that Alex delivers in a taunt. The first lyrics that Alex shouts are: “You think I don’t but I always fucking do. Every time you tell me something untrue puts a brick in the wall between me and you.” Alex G does curse in his music, as evidenced in the above lyrics, but he always manages to save his curse words for just the right songs. Now, as for the lyrics that Alex delivers in a “taunt,” those would be when he tells listeners, “I know that you’re lying.” He was presumably in his early twenties when this track was recorded and somehow manages to make himself sound like an elementary school bully in the pre-chorus.
“Brick” isn’t all fast-paced and brash. Some parts are slower and less ear-splitting, but the faster, brasher parts always creep back in and they always triumph. Imagine you’re in a fist fight and your opponent has knocked you to the ground. Any second now you’re going to get back on your feet and throw another punch, but while on the ground, the world slows down for a bit. That lull in the fight is one of the scant slower parts of “Brick.”
In “Sarah,” Alex G tells listeners that he can’t be what they need, but Alex G can be what you need. Alex G is his music and his music has layers, depth, and desperately doesn’t want to be understood. You can try to make perfect sense of his music all you want, but you never will and that’s the beauty. His lyrics, his sound, and even his approach and execution are completely up for interpretation. Sure, Alex G is a guy you can grab a beer with. He’s the cool, levelheaded indie artist next door, but how many of us really know our neighbors?
Interested in learning more about Alex G? Hit the link below:
Be sure to check out the full archives of Let the Music Be Your Guide, by Christine Naprava, here: https://vwmusicrocks.com/let-the-music-be-your-guide-archives/