Alex G - DSU
(Orchid Tapes 2014)
3 pressings' worth of vinyl pre-orders, write-ups in The Fader and Spin, and a handful of sneak-peek single releases later, what just might be the year's most hyped DIY album has at last been released into the world and the mythos surrounding the "internet's secret best singer-songwriter" becomes incarnate. Alex G's latest offering (and first album to be released on vinyl), DSU, is the embodiment of the classic underdog archetype. Philadelphia's Alex Giannascoli has slowly amassed a devoted cult following of lo-fi enthusiasts all from the comfort of his own Bandcamp page, which contains an rich back catalog dating back to January 2010. Each release bears a suave sense of effortlessness, a loose pop delivery delivered with a confidence that pierces through whatever layer of home-recorded fuzz coats each particular track. His music, his album artwork's blurry text imposed on vague, expressionist (and often impressionist) imagery, and his general persona are all understated, yet are undeniably cool, radiating with lowercase indifference. He's like a friend from school; the intimate nature of his recording and the abbreviation of his name suggest a casual companionship that will connect with just about any listener.
DSU opens with a warm, droning guitar chord that will instantly remind lo-fi fans of Beat Happening's "Tiger Trap". The minimalist charm of Calvin Johnson and co., however, only acts as a base for "After Ur Gone", as the chord is overtaken by peals of groaning lead guitar. Giannascoli's vocals, whispery and soft, but not nervously so, fill the spaces between screeching guitar riffs with a refrain of "after you're gone / how can we tell them you're gone?". Held together by sturdy, motorik percussion, one could interpret the track as an anthem of sorts. The strength of repetition works well, as the song doesn't overstay its welcome at an inviting two minutes and twenty seconds. That's where Alex G succeeds and Beat Happening often fails. He has the ability to write well-constructed, catchy songs, but still has the humility to keep them concise. In my opinion, brevity is a virtue and Giannascoli holds dear to it. "Harvey" is the perfect example of such a short yet but powerful track. It's just a minute and a half, but it's teeming with life. The instrumentation is weightless, there's a magical quality to it. Emily Yacina's wordless guest vocals are otherworldy, hanging like a mist among ivy-like twirls of bendy guitar leads, tufts of keyboard and speckles of piano. Trebly cymbal crashes complete the evening soundscape like the shimmering glow of lightning bugs. The lyrics are abstract and mysterious. They bounce around, reflecting the instability of a dream's imagery. I'm pretty certain the title character, Harvey, is a dog who happens to be able to talk, which recalls "Animals", a track which appeared on his 2012 album Trick.
I feel that there's a shared vibe between DSU and Pavement's Slanted and Enchanted. DIY ethos aside, there's a brittleness, a frailty of sorts, that exists in each. The albums are composed of beautiful, paper-thin instrumental surfaces that act as an icy surface for warbly, wobbly guitars to slide gracefully upon. Often, some elements deviate slightly from their beauty to give a song an unsettling aura, but not overwhelmingly so, as with the razor-like textures employed in "Axesteel".
A few outliers exist in the album: The first of these is "Promise". A funky bassline, which sounds like it could be a part of the soundtrack to a dollar store VHS tape about Radical X-Treme Skateboarders, is paired with a rollicking rhythm. Keyboards bear much of the melodic weight on this track, bubbling and squealing like boiling water in a teakettle. "Boy" is infused with bluesy piano noodlings, making for a melancholy and fascinatingly textured track. Though it lacks some of the soul and twang evident in previous efforts like Rules, DSU is undoubtedly the best installment in the Alex G canon, and perhaps the Orchid Tapes library as well.