An Introduction To (Sandy) Alex G
Words by Laneway’s Dom O’Connor
Prolific bedroom artiste (Sandy) Alex G – aka Alexander Giannascoli – has been recording music for more than five years from his Philadelphia home. He’s released more than 10 records on Bandcamp during this time and earning a cult following that includes Frank Ocean, who asked him to play guitar on his album Blonde. It can be pretty hard to find an entry point into Alex’s insular world, so here’s a playlist that cherrypicks his best songs – from alt-country to indie rock and even electronic music, which he’s begun to explore on more recent releases.
Alex famously collaborated with Frank Ocean on last year’s Blonde and Endless, although he was typically effusive about his contribution (‘I don’t wanna give myself too much credit because I didn’t do that much’ he later said in an interview with Spin). It’s not hard to hear Ocean’s influence on ‘Sportstar’ in the arpeggiated synths and pitch-shifted vocals, and the song often sounds like a more uncouth-cousin to Ocean’s ‘Nikes’. ‘Sportstar’ is an outlier in Alex’s sizeable discography, but it’s also an example of his ability to challenge himself and his audience and move freely between genres.
(Beach Music, 2015)
2015’s Beach Music was (Sandy) Alex G’s debut on renowned UK indie Domino, although it makes no concessions for new fans and feels uneven at times. However, ‘Bug’ is arguably the most pure refinement of his early sound- cracked, often-imperfect vocals, strummy acoustic guitars and an uneasy sense of menace over the entire song. It’s interesting to hear Giannascoli’s ear for arrangements continuing to grow as well, with the interlocking guitars used here the bedrock of the song.
The early Bandcamp recordings all contain a certain sparse charm, and ‘Change’ is a prime example of this. With only a barely strummed acoustic guitar and a noted Elliott Smith influence, Giannascoli sings to an unnamed friend with both a child-like innocence and a creeping melancholy in the delivery. Like the change he sings about, it all ends suddenly too, jarring the listener out of the daze the song creates with a jolt.
2014’s DSU is often seen as the best record in his discography, and ‘Harvey’ typifies the most likeable elements of it with its off-kilter but hummable melody and deceptively-sweet lyrics. ‘Harvey’ is sleepy in its delivery, but also feels concise and planned in the extreme, with not a wasted second in it. It feels like the perfect (Sandy) Alex G song in a lot of ways- homespun, open to a hundred different interpretations lyrically and incredibly catchy.
A sunny off-cut from 2013’s Trick, ‘Sarah’ feels like opening the curtains on a beautiful day and then being overwhelmed by the possibilities that offers. There’s a level of introspection in the lyrics that rewards repeat listens, and the synths sparkle and shimmer over the track with a perfectionist’s gleam. A true hidden gem in a catalogue full of them.
There’s always been a folk influence in (Sandy) Alex G’s work, but ‘Powerful Man’ ramps it up with a beautifully understated arrangement that makes use of a finger-picked guitar line and front-porch violin. Unlike most (Sandy) Alex G songs, the narrative here is fairly linear- in between oblique references to his family and friends and a ‘promised land’, Giannascoli offers a rare window into a non-character specific journey, with a rare confidence.
(Photo by Neal Santos)