There is a benefit to being so hungover – or so unwell – that you physically can’t do anything. It allows you to spend more time lying face down, listening to music without distraction. As last weekend’s hangover has blended into a virus that has flattened me this week, I’ve been lucky enough to cough and splutter through it with the latest release from the prodigious singer/songwriter and general enigma, (Sandy) Alex G. The Philadelphian musician has many traits in common with some of my favourite guitar heroes of recent years, including Kurt Vile and Carseat Headrest; he puts out music at the rate of knots and tends to shun studios in favour of doing it all himself. He even added a pseudonym to his name without offering any explanation as to why. I love that, almost as much as I love Sportstar, a record that regularly knocks it out of the park for me.
Alex G gets a lot of comparisons to Elliot Smith, which are somewhat justified for his close mic, falsetto singing style, clustered minor and smatterings of piano, but that’s not all that’s going on here. There’s also a fascinating dollop of alt-country, as evidenced by the banjos, fiddles and loping shuffles that permeate the record. In that aspect, and particularly on this track, he’s got more in common with Conor Oberst or Ryan Adams, neither of which are influences I’d be mad about. But he’s got something unique, too, a innocence of voice and expression that is wonderfully pure. You hear it a lot on ‘Proud’, but I can’t get past ‘Bobby’, which is this wrenchingly beautiful swamp ballad that circles around a banjo, acoustic fiddle and two violins. It feels like the North tugging at the sorrows of the South, something amplified by the consistent harmonies of Emily Yacina, who helps make this into a devil’s duet.
‘Bobby’ offers a simple conceit, the narrator is in love with his friend, but would drop him in a heartbeat if the real focus of the song demanded it. It gets real in the chorus, which wrings the most pathos from the barest lyrics I’ve heard in a while: ‘I’d leave him for you/if you want me too.’ The riff here, owned by the violin, is golden and Alex knows it, bringing it back numerous times. There’s something meditative and devastating about how this song loops back on itself that’s almost impossible to describe. It barely changes, but you feel like it does. It might help explain why Frank Ocean reportedly invited Alex G to the studio last year while recording Blonde, just to play some chords differently, with more emotion. Whatever the guy’s got, I feel it, even with a blocked nose and a throat that’s on fire.