I discovered this guy by pure accident. Sifting through my hometown’s bookstore, (sadly placed within a vacant strip mall) I picked up an issue of Rolling Stone and stumbled across an article about the Temple University student. It didn’t go deep into the songwriter’s music, but mentioned that he was a DIY, Bandcamp wonder boy that was about to go on some month long tour. It made him seem interesting enough, though, for me to check him out—I was in dire need of new music anyway.
I’m just finishing up the album, DSU, as I’m writing this, and the first thing I can honestly say about it is I’m stunned. Most albums I find on Bandcamp usually fall flat and have no clear chance of keeping me interested, but this album is genuinely good—there’s no better way to put it. The hundred dollar price tag for the record is well deserving for the quality of the work and perfect satire on how he’s remained a well kept secret. It took me skimming through Rolling Stone for Christ’s sake in order to even hear about the guy. He has a smaller following than Typhoon (and that’s really saying something) from what I can tell, yet I’m tempted to call DSU possibly the best record of this year so far (and probably one of the few who’ll say that).
To get on with it, I almost feel it’s inappropriate to break this album down track by track—dissecting it and getting a real good look at its insides. I’d rather go about it by saying that, undoubtedly, a lot of us have been starving for this kind of album. It walks this line of being lo-fi, noise rock but still being pleasant to listen to with its creative production layering and wildly inventive uses of the electric guitar. It’s acoustic slow core with spider-web harmonies and raging guitar noises straight from the grunge age in the early 90’s. What with all the over-produced, 80’s sounding records that are coming out left and right today, to hear something that was both raw and well-orchestrated was like being thrown in some alternate dimension where the guitar never became seemingly obsolete—simply because it’s impossible to hear this kind of stuff anymore.
I think one of the bigger surprises about DSU, for me, was that the album was never boring—never seemed like “background music” or became repetitive in any way possible. It’s almost like Alex pulled a similar move that the Smashing Pumpkins did early in their career by mixing a number of different sounds to form his own. The track, “Skipper”, is reminiscent of 90’s space rock while the following track, “Axesteel”, leave a taste of Codeine (see what I’m doing here?) in your mouth with a mix of noise layering that makes your nerves jump. And then you get a track like, “Promise”, that has this thick, funk riff that makes you think he’s about to break into “Superstition” or something, but instead fades into more soft harmonies and keeps an eerie vibe about it. “Hollow”, one of my favorite tracks off the album, brings back the “soft to loud” dynamic with one hell of a catchy chorus. I could go on and on about all the bands and sounds that Alex has perfectly mixed into his sound (mostly 90’s bands, but there’s some Pixies in there and other shit I don’t care to go into) but I’d be beating a dead horse. Let’s move on.
It’s generally a slower album, sure, but it doesn’t grind you down in any way and keeps you interested despite the seemingly orthodox songwriting skeletal structures. In fact, I was ecstatic to hear an artist go back to the more “standard” songwriting model (verse, chorus, verse, chorus) but getting creative with, what is almost now, an abandoned form when it comes to experimental bands out there (take Typhoon for example). Hell, I was thrilled to hear the guitar, my own instrument of choice, actually being used in a creative yet classic way. Not only was it being used, it was front and center of the whole album. The lyrics, however introverted, ironic, and sad, are not the main focus of the album despite how fantastic and meaningful they may be. (It should be important to note, though, that they do speak to the self-loathing, “down and out” generation that we are as we roll around in cheap apartments with empty pockets and cynical worldviews caused by the disappointments from all that we were promised.)
DSU goes quick, and leaves you wanting to go back and re-listen to it over and over again to try and catch new things you missed that are stuffed within these songs. Cutting short, right in the middle of a fading piano outro, you’re sent back to reality after spacing out for a half hour or so enjoying something that’s entirely new and nostalgic at the same time. The question that’s now buzzing in my head, sitting alone in silence besides the “click” and “clack” of computer keys, is how long will Alex G remain a secret?