Alex Giannascoli, the man (or boy) behind the songwriting powerhouse that is Alex G, begins his sixth record by asking what will happen after the record is finished. “After Ur Gone” rests on its titular lyric as a driving force, never explaining what will happen when “you”, the listener, are gone, only forcing this lack into existence through repetition. The song is a fitting start to Alex G’s latest and best record, DSU; it glitches its way into existence before presenting itself to be a song very characteristic of Alex G’s idiomatic writing style: repetitive, shaky vocally, and slightly charming (in the word’s least condescending connotation).
DSU is the first Alex G release that didn’t go straight to Bandcamp after it was recorded, instead being pressed to vinyl by the Orchid Tapes imprint—it is also his first release that was properly mastered. The album comes after RULES and TRICK, two self-released albums that thrust the 21-year-old Temple University student into a very small but very passionate Internet limelight, and it is both a logical progression and a staunch demonstration of faith to the bedroom pop aesthetic he has fostered thus far. Take, for example, the album’s second track, “Serpent Is Lord”: it displays similarities to Phil Elverum’s dark lo-fi experimentation with The Microphones and Mount Eerie (the song’s outro eerily resembles the outro to “The Glow Pt. II”), but it remains distinctly Alex G. The piano-and-guitar intro bends and repeats before evolving into a two-chord exploration of pop structure. While many of the shakily harmonized vocals render the lyrics nearly indecipherable, there seems to be some sort of central tone of disillusionment or loss; guitars arpeggiate in the minor key, lending the song a dark undertone.
The themes of underlying darkness and uncertainty extend across the record, but that’s not to say it’s unconfident. “Harvey”, the album’s second single, shares its name with the 1950 movie, about a ghost disguised as a six-foot tall rabbit that only the protagonist can see. Upon first listen, the song is DSU’s happiest offering. However, “Harvey” deals with loneliness, from the solitary feminine ooo’s to the lyric, “I love winning, baby, I want it all/I want to prove that I got the balls/Harvey keeps on playing with his food/He doesn’t understand what big boys do.” Alex G wants to prove his masculinity to others while the rabbit—the only other character in this minute-and-a-half song—cannot learn to grow up. It’s a peculiar juxtaposition of lonely lyrics embedded in happy music, but Alex G pulls it off with elegance.
“Axesteel” continues in this line of thought: a sound that resembles either a shriek or a car skidding to a stop introduces a conflation of concordant chord progression and discordant crunch guitars as Giannascoli repeats, “This is the reason I pray for you/This is my pick axe” until the song runs out. There is never an explanation, never an answer. “Sorry” deals with the impermanence of memory and forgiveness over a dissonance-turned-pop chord progression.
The album’s biggest surprise is “Promise”; between the choral synths and “Superstition” by way of a Discipline-era King Crimson guitar riff, it is probably Alex G’s strangest and boldest song in his discography. At times it sounds more like a funk song than anything else, holding on to a groove that refuses to leave even when the drums cut out. Things slow down during the androgynously sung “Icehead” before reaching DSU’s climax, “Hollow”. At just over four minutes, the song is the record’s longest, and probably its best. It features everything that characterizes Giannascoli’s writing style (deceptively simple lyrics, shaky vocals, long-form chord progression) while also exploring the extremes of his instrumental capability; oddly timed acoustic guitar interludes provide sonic respite before the song bounds into guitar solos, singable guitar leads, and shout-along verses and choruses.
Entering the professional platform of physical pressings, DSU is Alex G’s best sounding record to date, and is certainly his most mature. That said, the incredibly short instrumental songs—“Rejoyce” and “Tripper”—seem superfluous in an album that is scarily consistent and innovative in its songwriting. An extra song could probably fit into the space that is taken up with the instrumental sections. But it's a minor critcism in the context of such lush and mature material.
On “Boy”, Giannascoli sings, “I am not the boy you knew.” He’s right; with DSU he’s matured as a musician, matured as a songwriter. Alex G has become worthy of press plants and life beyond Bandcamp.