The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website

Reviews

Alex G
DSU Will Cook , June 20th, 2014 13:54

They say it's the little things that count, they say that, and they might still be right.

You might not have heard of Alex G yet, he's a 21 year old kid from Philadelphia, one of those outsider artist prodigy types. He's an oxymoron incarnate; the workaholic slacker, the quiet kid with lots to say, the talented musician that plays simple songs. He grew up playing basement shows with his friends, recording his songs on his laptop, uploading them onto the internet and steadily building a quietly fanatical following. He'd released six albums before his twentieth birthday, yet for the prolific Alex G, DSU is something of a coming of age, and as the album itself draws to a close he sings, "I am not the boy you knew", and by that point, you know that he's right.

Previous releases have appeared sporadic, for every occasional flash of greatness (like 'Change' from the album Trick) there are a handful of songs smothered by recordings that sound either laboured or rushed. Whereas DSU is a coherent collection of songs. His first release on the ever reliable Orchid Tapes label and actually the first one of his releases to be professionally mastered. The improved result is the obvious by-product of a genuine talent finally giving his music the attention it deserves. You wonder if everything up to now has just been practise for Alex, like he was just teaching himself how to make this album all along, it certainly feels like all of the pieces suddenly fit together.

Consistently across this album, nuances in the songwriting are accentuated by gloriously sprinkling an at times atonal mess all over it. Something that in the past has felt a little off, but now makes perfect sense, the subtle little touches make it what it is; an incredibly self assured set of songs with strange beauty hidden in plain sight at its periphery.

Yet at its centre it draws upon several noticeable influences from the American alt indie scene. The lonely ones with a good sense of impending doom, like Sparklehorse, Elliott Smith and Phil Elverum. These artists are all referenced in different ways and to varying success within the music. Songs like 'Hollow' manage to capture that great Mark Linkous skill of making good old fashioned Americana sound weird, fresh and new. The musicianship throughout the album is reminiscent of The Microphones at their dysfunctional pop best. The way Alex sings evokes Elliott Smith at his best, half hushed and inaudible in a way that makes odd lyrics stand out and hit home. During 'Axesteel' you find yourself singing "this is my pick axe, this is the reason I pray for you", but not knowing why.

Which is the thing all the way through DSU, the parts that you recognise, that feel familiar (or rather Alex G's creation of a comforting sense of familiarity) make everything else seem richer for happening around it. In the same way, the one lyric that you do hear is the one that you can't help but sing, as the rest of the words crystallise around it with repeated listens, the one you knew first means most, embedding itself at the heart of the piece. Which is how it works with songs like 'Promise'. First you fall for the obvious near funk riff that drives it, but after you've listened a few times, it's the sparse piano and the screech that wavers around in the background that really make it matter to you. First you empathise with the things that you can relate to, then you grow to love all the things associated to it.

Whether or not DSU gains anything more than a little critical acclaim in the short term, the fact that it has the potential to be one of the defining American indie records is all the praise I need to give it, although for the time being without major backing it's unlikely to be anything more than a cult favourite, to be obsessed over by the people lucky enough to discover it and maybe played in full at some shitty festival in ten years.  

If you love our features, news and reviews, please support what we do with a one-off or regular donation. Year-on-year, our corporate advertising is down by around 90% - a figure that threatens to sink The Quietus. Hit this link to find out more and keep on Black Sky Thinking.