Originality and popularity aren’t necessarily the determinants of long-term influence in indie rock. Rather, an artist has to achieve a delicate balance between “I can do that” and “how did they do that?” During the first half of the 2010s, Alex Giannascoli came out murmuring from a Philly basement/bedroom, creating an organic buzz on the strength of music that didn’t appear to require much technical skill; self-recorded and self-released while in his teens, albums like Race, Winner and Trick were defined by briskly strummed and muffled open-tuned guitars, rickety drums, charmingly simple rhymes, and the hiss of a microphone plugged straight into a computer. Though some of these albums have been professionally mixed and mastered in the time since, the “graphic design is my passion” cover art has remained.
The music itself was heavily influenced by Kill Rock Stars-era Elliott Smith, whereas Alex G’s taste for warped vocals can be traced to The Knife’s Silent Shout — a groundbreaking record in 2006 that you could emulate after a few minutes of YouTube tutorials by 2010. And as someone with vivid memories of going to multiple record stores just to find a copy of Illinois in 2005, the rise of Bandcamp, Tunecore, and other distribution platforms is still astounding to me — I could technically record a bunch of songs on my phone and they’d be just as easy for my parents to buy as a Bad Bunny album.
Indeed, there have probably been hundreds of “Alex G-type beats” uploaded to Bandcamp in the past month alone. And you won’t hear any of them because, as easy as it to emulate the superficial aspects of the man’s music, there’s been an uncanny quality that has proven impossible to replicate — even the most seemingly straightforward and Genius-analyzed Alex G lyrics rarely match what Alex G says they’re about, if he says anything about them at all. The song structures and melodies take counterintuitive turns that end up making all the sense in the world. If there’s a throughline from 2010’s Race to Alex G’s superlative new album God Save The Animals, it’s that he’s always a half-step ahead of his listeners — enough to beckon them forward without losing them completely.
Alex G’s place in the broader context of indie rock feels just as slippery as his music. Many of the dominant threads of the past decade run through his discography — the rise of Philadelphia as the epicenter of guitar-based indie rock, the shift of tastemaking from prestige publications to non-critical sources on social media, Orchid Tapes, Run For Cover, dad hats, Frank Ocean, Bandcamp. But unlike most of the artists who’ve followed a similar path towards indie’s A-list — Mitski, Japanese Breakfast, Car Seat Headrest, et al. — Alex G has done so without making Alex Giannascoli a load-bearing part of his appeal. His lyrics are quotable, if they’re audible, but rarely the kind that get meme’d on Twitter. I’ve heard from multiple sources that he’s a very hard guy to get a pull quote out of. Surely, “guys who are super into Alex G” did not get wiped out during the pandemic, but he’s never been the type to generate much content between album cycles. His closest brush with viral controversy involved getting confused for Beto O’Rourke.
Leading up to Beach Music, his 2015 debut on Domino, the word on Alex G was “prolific” — that between his proper albums, one-offs, and collaborations, it could be difficult to find a place to start without feeling overwhelmed. In the time since, Alex G’s output has hewed to a more deliberate, traditional pace and yet the numbers still feel daunting — 10 albums over the span of 12 years. To an extent, starting in reverse chronological order might be the best move for the novice strapped for time. But then again, the man is 29 years old — ask someone who has come of age alongside Alex G and the answer might be completely different. Heck, ask me in a few weeks and the answer might be different.
10. Winner, 2011
Winner has taken on an orphaned reputation, disappearing from all non-Bandcamp streaming services and stuck between the historical import of Alex G’s debut and the 2012 double-shot of Rules and Tricks that stoked a newfound national reputation. Heck, even the Rate Your Music and Bandcamp reviews are relatively muted; it’s kinda wild to consider the possibility of those people hearing Winner in 2011 and thinking that Alex G’s best days were possibly behind him. And while there are a couple of gems here, something’s gotta hold down this spot and I swear I’m not trying to be cute just because of the title.
9. Race, 2010
If you’re unfamiliar with Indiecast — new episodes airing every Friday, by the way — one of our favorite pet theories is that the last year of any decade is the “-10.” 1991, 2001, 2011 — that’s when the real ’90s or aughts or 2010s began. And so looking back on Race, a 2010 bedroom-to-Bandcamp archetype from its album cover to its GarageBand production values, it’s fun to imagine it sharing the same airspace as Halcyon Digest, The Monitor, Teen Dream, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy and such, monumental capstones of the decade prior (not to mention even the buzzier, more R&B/chillwave-indebted likes of Twin Shadow or How To Dress Well). What I hear now is a lot of charm, which is to say, a 17-year-old with obvious talents still showing his tracework — there’s obvious nods to Elliott Smith and Conor Oberst, the occasional burst of lo-fi ingenuity and puerile lyricism. To reiterate, Alex G was 17 when it came out and you should compare it to any songs you wrote at that age.
8. Rules, 2012
In some crucial ways, Rules is the first exemplar of what an “Alex G album” would be going forward — curveball opening track, artwork courtesy of his sister Rachel, plus the bonus track “Sandy” that would end up becoming far more consequential than anyone could’ve ever expected in 2012. But it also stands apart amidst Alex G’s pre-Domino output as the most rawk thing he’s ever done, as “Candy,” “Message” and “Master” truly sound like the work of a garage band recording on GarageBand. It’s not his best look — the piano-laced “Mis” and hushed “Come Back” were more indicative of what would come later that year on Trick, an album whose shadow looms over Rules to this day.
7. We’re All Going To The World’s Fair (Original Soundtrack), 2022
Even if he wasn’t responsible for the original score, We’re All Going To The World’s Fair probably doesn’t exist without Alex Giannascoli. Jane Schoenbrun reportedly went heavy on the Alex G catalog while writing the script, part body horror, part mumblecore, part suburban picaresque, all very online. While the mundane ASMR-like sounds of the online experience carry much of the sonic weight of the film — tapping keyboards camera timers and such — Alex G was tasked with serving as a liaison between the physical and digital realms of We’re All Going To The World’s Fair, as well as between the eerie beauty and gory repulsion of its visuals. Given carte blanche by a superfan, he gets indulgent here, a handful of more traditional vocal performances overshadowed by experiments in frosted synth instrumentals and “Casey’s Walk,” seven minutes of haunted house ambient. If not an essential addition to the Alex G discography, it’s an important one nonetheless, proof of a distinct, highly in-demand sonic signature that requires going straight to the source.
6. Trick, 2012
Trick is Alex G’s most successful album on Spotify and it’s not particularly close. This is largely thanks to “Mary,” “Sarah” and “Advice,” all of which have at least 32 million streams apiece — about three times more than their closest competitor (House Of Sugar’s “Gretel”) and more than Beach Music and DSU in their entirety. I can’t really ascribe this to Trick having some kind of rarefied status in the Alex G universe, nor the commercial boost provided by its 2015 reissue. But my theory is that Trick is the Alex G album most suited to spawn fluky Spotify hits (though it doesn’t contain his “Harness Your Hopes,” that would be 2011 single “Treehouse,” a duet with Emily Yacina). Up to that point, Alex G songs were loose, off-the-cuff things but the albums themselves were fairly tight; Trick was downright indulgent at 37 minutes, 16 songs and some of which were clearly larks or, dare I say, filler. And then there’s “Mary” and “Sarah,” the ones probably best suited to playlist-making for people who fail to dig deeper than their titles — “Mary” is perhaps the creepiest women-as-weed metaphor ever put to tape, while “Sarah” is the kind of love song deeply emotional and unhappy young people share with each other as a kind of aspirational model. But then again, it’s usually the hits that distinguish the superfan from the casual listener, i.e., the kind that had yet to learn not to take everything Alex G says at face value.
5. Rocket, 2017
Like most prominent indie rock artists from Philly, Alex G started leaning more towards country music in 2017. With their twangy cowboy chords and high lonesome harmonies, “Bobby,” “Proud” and “Powerful Man” reframe Alex G’s ’90s reference as that of a long-lost descendant of the No Depression movement rather than a Kill Rock Stars signing. But if Rocket indeed is his “country” album, what to make then of the Califone-esque, pots-and-pans percussion of “Horse” and “Poison Root,” or the psychedelic loops of “Alina” or… “Brick,” which sounds like a Show Me The Body track that accidentally got smuggled into Rocket as a plant pressing error. Perhaps the better word for Rocket is that it’s Alex G’s “roots” album, so long as one can accept that alt-country, hardcore, and cocktail jazz are equally foundational forms of American music.
4. DSU, 2014
If we’re allowing the Elliott Smith comparison, this is his Either/Or — the last record he’d make as a strictly cult artist and also the one I feel most self-conscious about ranking because I believe his best work came with a bigger budget (I don’t know what the “Say Yes” is in this scenario, Alex G doesn’t really write those kind of songs). I won’t begrudge anyone’s personal attachment to DSU and it’s certainly a significant step up in an already impressive catalog. Critics playing catch up understandably used 2014-appropriate weirdo-pop touchstones (Ariel Pink! Mac DeMarco! Jackson Scott!), but Alex G’s forays into off-kilter funk (“Promise”), Scotchgard-huffing slowcore (“Icehead”) and shaggy guitar heroism (“Serpent is Lord”) felt borne of confidence and curiosity, like someone who was only beginning to realize the extent of their talents and their ambitions. From DSU forward, it was impossible to engage with indie rock and not hear artists trying to sound like Alex G.
3. House Of Sugar, 2019
When I first conceived this list, I felt pretty sure House Of Sugar was going to be No. 1 — it had the best singles of any Alex G album that actually had pre-release singles, I’ve been conditioned over the past 25 or so years to believe any indie artist’s dive into electronic music is inherently greater than their guitar-based work and it also got the best overall reviews. Upon revisitation, a lot of that holds true — both “Southern Sky” and “Gretel” are No. 1 seeds if there’s ever an Alex G tourney pool-style bracket, while “In My Arms” and “Cow” accounted for his strongest Side B run to date. And yet, while the largely abstract and discordant electronic midsection felt beguiling and progressive throughout 2019, nowadays I find myself impatiently waiting through “Near” and “Project 2”; interesting stuff and certainly unexpected from someone whose transitory tracks in the past had still leaned more towards analog, strings-and-wood instruments. But while I appreciate the artistic risk, House Of Sugar spends a bit too much time working against Alex G’s strengths, at least when the “singer-songwriter” and “electronic” modes are divided so blatantly. Of course, this is only something I realized three years later as he reconciled those sides on God Save The Animals.
2. Beach Music, 2015
It being 2015 and not 1995, I don’t recall many people having hang-ups about Alex G becoming labelmates with Arctic Monkeys and Franz Ferdinand. Getting signed to Domino felt like a validation for Bandcampers, proof of a path forward for the countless, solo bedroom artists taking advantage of the unprecedented accessibility of home recording technology and the grim realities of trying to start out as a band in the mid-2010s (indeed, Car Seat Headrest and Mitski would soon find themselves stepping up to Matador and Dead Oceans in the next year). It’s not like a beefier recording and/or promotion budget made Beach Music any more slick or pandering; in fact, Alex G’s de facto “major label” debut took the experimentation of DSU towards even stranger places, developing a taste for corrupting pre-rock pop music and all but eliminating the fuzzier indie stylings of Rules and Trick. But am I wrong in remembering Beach Music being viewed as… kind of a disappointment? Or at least, the source of befuddlement to people just catching wind of Alex G and wondering, this is the new Elliott Smith? Certainly, Beach Music makes for a curious starting point, and lead single “Bug” ended with some of his most abrasive pitch-shifted vocals. The most popular song, “Brite Boy,” is a playground duet that could pass for a chipper Ween, but the vibe is otherwise generally somber and subdued, the guitar heroics of “Snot” and “Kicker” bashful as they are beautiful. But whereas the more acclaimed Domino albums that would come later largely adhered to a Microcastle-style track sequencing — singles at the front, experimental middle, reconvene for a more accessible but somewhat more subdued Side B — Beach Music strikes me now as the most coherent Alex G album, darting every which way on a track-by-track basis but maintaining a consistent, bittersweet mood that never fails when any of the four seasons start to change.
1. God Save The Animals, 2022
Had it not been made clear already, this, like all Best Albums lists, is the result of inherently subjective dark arts. Had someone else made this pitch to Uproxx HQ before myself, you would’ve read about how Trick is actually Alex G’s greatest work or why House Of Sugar can’t possibly top Rocket because the latter came out when the author was a freshman in college. Or vice versa. While there have been plenty of superlatives granted to God Save The Animals thus far — his most refined work, his most pop, surely more to come — I feel comfortable giving into recency bias here because it undeniably feels like a culmination of everything he’s done up to this point. Folky Alex G, abstract Alex G, slowcore Alex G, rawk Alex G, it’s all here, but God Save The Animals manages to circle back to his origins placing the vocals higher than they’d ever been since Race or Rules. And this time around, it seems like Alex G wants you to pay attention to what he has to say, largely forgoing his more oblique lyrical style to express his thoughts about art, about God, about his career, about drugs, about eternity — or at least, what seems like Alex G doing a straight-up “singer-songwriter” bit. By this point, we should know better — God Save The Animals holds true not to convention but to Alex G.
God Save The Animals is out now via Domino. Get it here.