In later life, the French philosopher Jacques Derrida trained his critical lens away from abstract conceptions of human language and toward his pet cat. How should he feel about staring back at his cat? Should he be ashamed of his cat seeing him naked, vulnerable, in the bathroom? If animals can’t express a moral code, if they don’t know that nudity is shameful, are they just amoral? For Derrida, that is the wrong question: it is not whether animals can think, but whether they can. feel. Throughout his enigmatic discography, Alex Giannascoli, who plays Alex G, has unraveled these same thorny issues. in 2012 Trick, his dog Rosie communicates only with her eyes. Two years later, in DSU, his dog Harvey “doesn’t understand what big boys do”, but Alex loves him anyway. And while the Philadelphia musician insists his songs aren’t all About dogs, the animals in your life are representatives of your restless sense of right and wrong. In his last album, God save the animalshe draws out an uncanny beauty from our fellow non-humans, grappling with innocence and their discontents through his doe-eyed stares.
In a catalog strewn with inscrutable poetics, God save the animals stands out for its moments of sharp lyrical simplicity. Rather than sketch ideas through the simplest of sentence fragments, Giannascoli writes with a sense of ingrained patience, deepening and developing the characters in his stories with extensive conversations and engagements. Although his writing has always straddled the line between autobiography and autofiction, in God save the animals it seems that the protagonists of his stories, fictional or not, are getting wiser with time. Over the impressive melodies of “Miracles,” he reaches a whispery falsetto as he considers starting a family. In the past he might have fallen into despair, but now he is excited by the idea: “After all,” he admits, “there is no way out of apathy.” Throughout the album, his sense of responsibility strengthens with the test of time: “You can believe in me,” he sings himself, trilling, on “Cross the Sea.” “Now sit with me / I’ll keep you safe,” he assures himself on “Ain’t It Easy.” It is a guarded calm, punctuated by shifting voices and sinister whispers. But even the alien vocals lean toward comfort rather than their usual unease, as on “Cross the Sea” repeats of “I’ll Take Care of You.”
And then there are the animals. References to pets are more oblique here; names are few. But it’s not hard to find man’s best friend peeking between the lines. On “Mission,” the pride of “did it right, stayed out of the kitchen/did it right, stayed on track” sounds like the confession of a weary but determined bloodhound. “Runner,” a stunning song about an infinitely trustworthy companion, launches the harrowing line: “You got hit with the rolled up magazine,” a punishment that’s much more reminiscent of a pet than a human. Do you want to imply that a person is being scolded like a dog? And if not, what does it mean that we mistreat dogs so lightly? The deliberately vague topics in God save the animals— whose perspective is captured on “Cross the Sea” when he sings, “See how I make you smile/ You put your foot down and I go crazy”? — blur the lines between animal and human motivations. There is a shared ethic built from that ambiguity. Animals, Giannascoli suggests, can definitely feel— fear, loyalty, dignity — even if they cannot understand the need to be saved.