Starter Pack: (Sandy) Alex G

Where to begin with the FADER 117 cover star.

June 05, 2019
Starter Pack: (Sandy) Alex G

It’s almost impossible to know where to start with Alex Giannascoli, the prolific 26-year-old songwriter and newly minted FADER cover star who records as (Sandy) Alex G. His new album, House of Sugar — due out via Domino on September 13 — will be his ninth; he’s got two EPs, credits on Frank Ocean’s Blonde and Endless, and a slew of bedroom-recorded standalone tracks floating around the internet as well. He's released country-adjacent acoustic songs, noise assaults, lounge music excursions, grunge riffs, and pitch-shifted experiments — enough to confound even the most devoted r/sandyalexg commenters.

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So, the seven songs we’ve pulled together here for our latest Starter Pack won’t get you to all the way to the root of Giannascoli’s music — go back and listen to everything from 2010’s RACE onwards, thank us later — but together they make up a good place to start.

"Powerful Man" from Rocket (2017)

More than any of his projects before, Rocket finds (Sandy) Alex G reconstructing a vision of Americana. This is most explicit on “Powerful Man,” where Alex recounts three fables of pastoral obligation, each rooted in a rusted promise of masculinity. Halfway through the song, he cedes the initial intent to a sandstorm instrumental deluge: “I couldn’t tell you what it means to me.” He doesn’t have to spell it out any further; the cajun fiddle solo does the rest. — Salvatore Maicki

"Change" from Trick (2012)

A comment on an unofficial YouTube upload of (Sandy) Alex G’s “Change” reads: “Sometimes when I listen to his music, I feel like Alex g grew up with me and experienced the same things I did.” The Philadelphia artists’s best songs often have this effect: they make you feel a distinct sort of nostalgia for something that’s both familiar and distant. Clicking around on YouTube, or listening to the 26-year-old’s extensive discography on Bandcamp, I tend to find myself reminiscing about things I never went through and missing the characters in his songs who never even knew. His remarkable ability to draw the listener into his world is part of what makes (Sandy) Alex G one of the best songwriters of this generation. On “Change,” a song from 2012's Trick, he accomplishes that pull in just two minutes. When he sings, “Remember when you took too much / I didn’t mind being your crutch,” you feel it — even if you weren’t there. — Ben Dandridge-Lemco

"Harvey" from DSU (2014)

Like many Alex G songs, “Harvey” is a song about a dog. Of course, it’s also not just a song about a dog. It’s about growing up; about people telling you success and winning — whatever the hell they are — are the only things you should gun for in life; about toxic millennial working culture and basically all the bullshit that comes with being young and alive in the 21st century. All of those things are a bit nauseating, and if you really wanted it to be, “Harvey” could be something of an anxiety-inducing listen. By the same token, though, you could always just listen to “Harvey” and forget all that shit — after all, it’s just a song about a dog. — Shaad D'Souza

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"Sportstar" from Rocket (2017)

If you think that stan culture has an unduly toxic and antagonistic nature, consider the world of professional sports. Whether it's the NBA, NFL, or lower-league soccer teams from England [sorry, David — Ed.] there are millions lining up to worship their favorite stars and tie themselves in knots to defend their honor. Alex G dives into this murky world on "Sportstar," an experimental but memorable track from Rocket. He embodies the role of a superfan asking to play on the same team as his hero or, failing that, simply tie their Nikes for them. The precarious and temporary nature of life, mirrored so often in the failures of seemingly unflappable athletes, runs through the song like rain in a storm. "If you want to hurt me," he sings, voice distorted into an alien shape, "Hurt me." After all, what is sports fandom if not a permamnent and uncontrollable hope that your idols don't let you down? — David Renshaw

"Mary" from Trick (2012)

Unlike most of the other tracks on Alex G’s 2012 album Trick, “Mary” has a definite groove to it. But this particular groove is unique in its contrasting eeriness. You could say it’s a love song, but there’s a lot more to it. He starts off by singing that “mary is the girl that I wanna kiss,” but begins to describe her as some sort of vampire or otherworldly creature: “She’s got big red eyes and big red lips / She’s got big sharp teeth and big fat hips.” With it’s sensual guitar riffs and sweet but dark lyrics, “Mary” is simultaneously intimate, simple, and entangled. — Ava Trilling

"Salt" from Beach Music (2015)

On paper, (Sandy) Alex G’s lyrics read like cut-ups of dream imagery and snippets of half-remembered yet formative events and conversations jotted down in old notebooks. “Salt” from 2015’s Beach Music, is a prism of Giannascoli’s written moods: blissful, nebulous, poetic, creepy. He sings from the perspective of an insidious guardian, if the monster under your bed had a voice like Neil Young and liked grunge-era guitar sounds and tinny, tropical drum pads. “Salt” gets some resonance from our era of constant surveillance, but it also stands on its own as a theme song for the ageless, slumberous demons gleefully awaiting our next snooze. — Jordan Darville

"Bobby" from Rocket (2017)

“I'm just sticking words together,” Giannascoli says of his lyrics in Patrick D. McDermott's cover story. I don't completely buy that — (Sandy) Alex G's lyrics are always tough to place, and they might not always be driving at specific details, but they're too evocative to have sprung up at random. "Bobby," the obvious first single from Rocket (alongside the less obvious "Witch") is one of his most immediately beautiful songs, with Molly Germer's violin grounding his near-detached vocals and Emily Yacina's harmonies trying to add a little air. I've always read the first verse — "He wakes me when he goes to work / His hands are cold / His breath is smoke / I'd leave him for you, if you want me to" — as an attempt to personify depression. Maybe that's not what he was going for; I'm sure he'd say he wasn't going for anything; I guess it doesn't make a difference. — Alex Robert Ross

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Starter Pack: (Sandy) Alex G