Review Summary: No stories, no mirrors
On God Save The Animals
, Alex G once again revels in multitudes, wielding his considerable songwriting powers to conjure warped and kaleidoscopic pop songs that operate like a funhouse mirror: by accumulating so many auditory, thematic and lyrical sensations, it can be disorienting and exhilarating and challenging to know what exactly it is you caught a glimpse of. This modus operandi is not radically different than previous effort House of Sugar
, but that album cloaked itself in an at-times impenetrable atmosphere of unease and kept listeners slightly at a remove through lyrics tied to an enigmatic concept. Keeping this in mind, God Save The Animals
sounds like a slippery and self-conscious side-step to that more song-based and storybook frame of mind, harkening back to the kind of fractured and impressionistic indietronica the artist made a name on, but now bearing a newfound emotional directness and mastery over sequencing and flow.
The biggest upgrade that can be found this time is consistency and flow. There is a rich and bright burst of melodicism that binds these songs together as a warm and connective organism. Whether it's the pounding choral interludes placed in opener 'After All' or the cavalcade of drizzling keys and Strokesian guitar stabs in early jolt of energy 'Runner', Alex G repeatedly finds engaging ways of putting big melodic flourishes in these songs without feeling overly kitschy, usually by marrying these attention grabbing tactics with emotional resonance. The somnambulent pinging guitar of 'Ain't It Easy' sounds like an abandoned satellite orbiting a lonely moon, effectively conveying the muted sense of desperation for connection and protection. 'Mission' puts enough sustain in the vocals and the big smacks of keys to leave space for a Bowie-esque celestial longing.
Unfortunately, not everything works. The droning and hermetic 'Blessing' comes off as a concentrated retreating from the open vulnerability of the revelatory glitch folk balladry of 'Cross The Sea', which itself ends in a clutter of dramatic sci-fi synths, threatening to derail the quietly devotional torch song. 'S.D.O.S.' also squanders its own momentum with a spit take second verse that cheapens the whole thing. In moments like these, or the perfectly fine but utterly inconsequential 3 minute vibe 'Headroom Piano', it seems like Alex G can't help himself, reverting back to intellectual stimulation over emotional engagement.
The best moments here prove that there doesn't need to be such a sharp divide. 'Miracles' is intricately pieced together and retains the loping hangdog spirit of G's best near-ballads, but the soaring and touching openness of the lyrics make it the genuine article, resulting in a career best track. The aforementioned 'Ain't It Easy' and 'Cross The Sea' might be the best twofer of the year, giving the whole experience a reflective and pensive middle section of deep beauty carried along by waves of gorgeously layered vocals and forlorn yet ever diligent instrumentation. Closer 'Forgive' can be seen as a rocking analogue to Miracles; it has that creeping insistent energy of the artist's biggest songs but marries it to gritty vocals practically wailing, "No stories, no mirrors, I choose." It's a bracing statement that hopefully signals a future even more bold and confident than what we've seen thus far. The full-bodied successes of God Save The Animals
sometimes give way to moments of gun-shy reticence; while an artist as inquisitive and meticulous as Alex G doesn't need to go for the jugular, he could also learn when not to pull his punches. This one isn't quite the knockout, but it still more than goes the distance.