Music Reviews
God Save the Animals

Alex G God Save the Animals

(Domino) Rating - 8/10

Alex G’s music has always acted like a Rorschach test. The characters in his songs are vivid yet scrupulous. Fans have tried to discern meaning in his songs, but even Alex has admitted his own uncertainty. This is to say, you can make what you want of his music. “God” may not refer to the deity Himself, but to maybe something less defined but equally potent, like the simple belief that man can do good. It’s this songwriting approach that has tied his albums together, even as he’s fleshed out and experimented on the sounds of his earliest work.

Yet it’s undeniable, and no less satisfying, to say that God Save The Animals, Alex G’s ninth full-length album, is easily one of his most cohesive works to date. The bright single Runner glistens with guitar strums and uplifting piano keys. Mission rides along a slow, unwavering drum kit rhythm with Alex’s voice at times calling from afar. The alt-country-tinged closer Forgive feels like an appropriate conclusion to a serene album that’s no less dense with character studies and moral questioning. It’s been a few albums since Alex G has been so consistently gentle with his music.

2017’s Rocket marked a turning point for Alex, with Molly Germer’s violin and new vocal experimentations adding ways to express the range of emotion that were always core to his songs. He doubled down on these experimentations on 2019’s House of Sugar, pulling between moments of pounding synths and vocoder-riddled vocals to stripped-down guitar ballads. On his latest, the album’s brasher moments are folded into an overwhelmingly tender music palette. The vocal effects he’s used in previous work are more subtle and entwined into the songs.

The album’s first heavy moment comes unexpectedly through the single Cross the Sea, a somber song comprised of Alex's lower register and uncertain melodies. At the three-minute mark, the song falls into a hole of ominous piano keys and a blaring synth that cuts out. We’re suddenly greeted with a louder, more ominous wall of synths on Blessing, a song that quickly finds its sinister footing with a thumping drum kit and his hushed yet determined vocals. “Every day / Is a blessing / As I walk / Through the mud,” he says, solidifying the idea that these sonic distortions aren’t highlights or sidebars, but are essential to the journey itself.

But Alex still imbues his characters with a sense of grittiness. His lyrics have often been grounded in the voice of the young man—cocky and immature (see the Rocket gem Powerful Man), but also naive and never pretentious. Immunity features Denis Johnson-like visceral language within the narrator’s story: “I have to put the cocaine in the vaccine / Walk out of the doctor with immunity.” By the song’s end, the dude is in trouble, yet he can’t help but assure the other person that “Yeah I’m in love with you.” Alex G remains a songwriter whose empathy has never wavered.

Perhaps the album’s best example is the penultimate guitar ballad, Miracles. For all of Alex G’s success with experimentation, he’s equally at home delivering moments of earnest love. “We’ve got better pills than ecstasy / They’re miracles and crosses,” he sings. Are these religious references, or is he simply taking familiar tropes and wielding them for more universal use? That’s for you to decide.