Oftentimes when a beloved underground artist breaks through to the “indie mainstream”, the question arises of whether they’ll abandon their signature style in an attempt to appeal to their now-wider audience. It’s a question that’s asked throughout all musical circles, as a matter of fact, and the answer is just as likely to swing one way as it is the other.
Philadelphia singer-songwriter Alex G found himself in the thick of such a discussion earlier this year when he signed to British indie powerhouse Domino Records, a.k.a. the label that helped propel bands like Arctic Monkeys and Franz Ferdinand to international stardom. However, his label debut Beach Music silenced all doubters of his sense of artistic integrity, and serves as a logical next step in the development of his voice.
For those familiar with his music, Beach Music isn’t surprising in the least. Musical building blocks that defined his earlier work can be found in droves throughout – steadily chugging acoustic chord progressions, meandering vocal lines, and the tendency to play around with pitch-shifting his own voice, to name a few.
However, his habit of shifting ever so slightly towards a particular sound or artistic direction is represented as well. “Progression” isn’t exactly the right word for it – while the sound of each particular release is unique in its own subtle set of ways, whether things are being driven forward or backward is usually pretty unclear. That’s far from being a bad thing, though, as it gives each new release in the Alex G catalog its own particular sound while still remaining true to the overbearing sonic qualities that fans have come to love and expect.
Beach Music asserts itself in this way at first simply by sounding more open and clean than most previous Alex G releases. This may be due to the higher standards of production for the record (the mixing and mastering was done by Unknown Mortal Orchestra’s Jake Portrait), but it’s hard not to imagine that Alex himself had some sort of role in deciding exactly how each song came across quality wise – for someone so involved in every aspect of their art, it makes a lot of sense. The sound of the record almost invites the listener in where previous releases would stand to alienate them; instead of a separate world that we’re offered a glimpse into, Beach Music allows us a little more ease of participation.
What we’re taking part in, exactly, doesn’t stray too far from the path laid out by previous Alex G records. Internal monologues, simplistic statements of action and feeling, and one or two-word phrases thrown together with the intention of creating something cohesive – all of these populate the lyrical side of the record as they have in the past, perpetuating his distinct writing style while presenting it against a fresh, new background. Everything is extremely well-written regardless, but the cleaner sonic aspects to the record allow the lyrics to be more easily accessed, as if wiping the layer of fuzz off the surface of the music made it easier to notice something that’s been there all along.
While Beach Music may not be a step forward in terms of musical experimentation (his previous release, DSU, was his personal record as far as that goes), it chooses to take that step in a completely different direction, opening itself up a bit more and inviting the listener a little further inside than they were previously able to go. For now, at least, it’s a stylistic move that makes Alex G’s music just that much more compelling.