The 49-second intro to Philly low-fi guru Alex Giannascoli’s latest album crashes in with tinny shouts and guitar feedback — a jarring fake-out before the album’s real opener, “Bug,” turns to the mellow, muted tones at which he excels. At 22, Alex G has already recorded six LPs, released mostly on Bandcamp. With last year’s excellent DSU, he became a breakout star on the boutique Brooklyn label Orchid Tapes. Beach Music is the singer-songwriter’s first album for the comparatively major-league Domino Records, and it restates what his fans already know: Laying down a few chords on Garage Band is easy, but few home recording artists can make music that feels as necessary as Alex G’s.
Beach Music finds him expanding stylistically, song by song: “Salt” takes inspiration from Eighties pop, “Look Out” is a shimmering ambient experiment, while “In Love” tip-toes into weirdo jazz. Off-kilter moments like the pitch-shifted singing on “Bug” and the Animal Collective-esque vocal effects on “Station” save the album from predictability. But Alex G’s best songs are still his simplest, like “Mud,” a hushed ballad wrapped in reverb like a fuzzy blanket, or “Kicker,” a slightly heavier tune where his rhythmic singing mirrors a repeated riff and skips any verse-chorus structure.
Yearning and self-doubt are the prevailing moods here, sung in enigmatic lyrics over Giannascoli’s gentle strumming. “This thing, it haunts me like a shadow,” he sings vaguely on “Thorns.” “When I say, ‘look out for him’, what I really mean to say is ‘look out for me,'” he warns on “Look Out”. But that’s the most dramatic Alex G gets: His unassuming music rarely demands attention. Instead, it lingers at the back of your mind, conjuring a lazy autumn car ride soundtracked by a warped Elliott Smith cassette. By the time you’ve gotten used to Beach Music‘s relaxed melancholy, it’s become a much-needed refuge.