Words by Abby Kearney
DIY ‘home-made’ music can mean many things in the context of the internet. Sometimes DIY ‘home-made’ music can mean re-imaginings of film themes through kitchen utensils, or painfully laborious recordings on off-key synths. But other times it can mean artists like Alex G – the prodigiously talented 21 year old from Philadelphia, who has been recording music in his bedroom for five years, through a microphone taped to his Mac. The angst ridden alt-rock singer songwriter ruminating on love, sex and pot is hardly a rarity on Bandcamp – the site of Alex G’s musical output and loyal following. But it is rare for one to make such a rise from internet semi-obscurity, as he did last year, releasing his first fully mastered LP ‘DSU’ to unanimous critical acclaim. It’s a great, exciting, album, incorporating pop, some funk, alt-rock, and lots of navel gazing, and one which has, for many, fully solidified his place as torch carrier in the much-revered, brooding lineage of Elliot Smith, Alex Chilton, Built to Spill and Pavement.
Tonight he’s playing in Soup Kitchen, a venue which suits him well- it’s small, gloomy and informal and he greets the crowd with stories of altercations in McDonalds and Beatles trivia. The audience warms quickly to G and his band. They ask questions – his favourite Beatles song – and sporadically shout suggestions for improvements in sound quality. As the show begins a row of camera phones are raised to face G. Poised and ready to capture new fuel for the online hype. It’s a tight set of fleeting, effortlessly tossed off pieces; a perfect illustration of his impressively wide, varied oeuvre, in which almost every piece could be labelled ‘standout.’ There’s the fuzzy, low-fi, ‘DSU’ opener, ‘After Ur Gone’, and the world-weary, dead-pan ‘Harvey’. The more experimental pieces- heavier, warped, ‘Icehead’, and the tortured, scream-punctuated ‘Animals.’ And his moments of pop- the upbeat, tongue-in-cheek, love/lust ode ‘Mary’, ‘Mary is the girl that I want to fuck/ She’s got a leather heart and leather gloves.’ And though, indeed, a tight set, it retains the unpolished DIY edge that makes his work so engaging. His voice is strained and strangled, the guitar work disheveled, messy and fuzzed.
His material’s themes – getting stoned, uncertain loves, and growing up – may be classic singer songwriter fodder, but he tackles it with a refreshing honesty, perceptiveness and an idiosyncratic weirdness. The relatability of the world conjured in his lyrics, where time is wasted and romances are short-lived or unfulfilled, goes some way to explain his cult-like popularity among late teens/early twenty-somethings, and fully justifies label as the ‘internet’s best secret songwriter’. The lyrics are deceptively simple and they carry a rare weightiness, artfully juxtaposing the banal with the profound.
At the close of the final song, the shoegaze-y, gloomy DSU highlight ‘Hollow’, the crowd calls for another and he obliges with ‘Change’. ‘I don’t like how things change’, he repeats dourly into the microphone to an enraptured audience, his fringe obscuring his face. The show may have slipped by quickly, imperceptibly, but it leaves a lasting impression of a great, fresh, intriguing talent, one who may, or may not, soon penetrate the mainstream, but who will continue to inspire intense, wide eyed devotion in those who encounter him.