Few bands have experienced the kind of unexpected rise that has propelled Philadelphia quartet Beach Slang to indie darling status in the course of just a year and change.
At first glance, there are even fewer who would seem to be more unlikely candidates. With a forty-year-old frontman (James Alex) and a collection of other members ranging in age from twenty-five to their thirties all pounding out a strain of heartfelt rock that hasn’t been en vogue in years, the band hardly seemed to fit the traditional mold for overnight success when they released their first EP, Who Would Ever Want Anything So Broken?, in the spring of 2014.
But as American performer Eddie Cantor once said, “it takes twenty years to make an overnight success”, and, no matter the age, the members of Beach Slang are all seasoned veterans of the Philly punk scene: Alex spent fifteen years on the road with the cult pop-punk outfit Weston, and the lineup also features former members of Ex-Friends, Nona, and Glocca Morra. They also share a dream, and together they’ve created two powerful EPs about keeping that dream alive.
The Things We Do To Find People Who Feel Like Us, the band’s proper full-length debut, is no exception. The band picks up right where they left off with Cheap Thrills On A Dead End Street, cranking out a collection of anthems for outcasts that thrives on the pairing between Alex’s haggard rasp belting blown-out sentiments and the powerful backing band that buzzes along behind him, giving lines like “too fucked up to love/ but too soft to hate” the desired weight. The ethos is punk, but the aesthetic — a blend of the wit and Romanticism of The Replacements, the overdriven celebration rock of Japandroids, and the hyperemotional balladry of JamisonParker — is more diverse
But not too diverse. Beach Slang are a loud and fast band, and their debut is, for the most part, a loud and fast album, the power chords only stopping long enough to ring for effect. That old-fashioned rock and roll momentum isn’t just refreshing; it also helps to keep Alex’s lyrics afloat. If spoken aloud, many of his best lines (“if rock and roll is dangerous/how come I feel so safe in it?” from “I Break Guitars”, for instance) sound like teenage poetry, but they come out as fist-pumping mantras when placed in their proper context. When things slow down on “Too Late To Die Young”, however, even the beauty of dueling cellos can’t help but start to drown in the sticky sentimentality.
And here’s the thing: none of this, fast or slow, should work. The Things We Do sounds like the product of an alternate reality in which Bruce Springsteen was a teenager in the 2000’s who spent all his time crafting the perfect instant messenger away notifications instead of ruminating on small town America. But Alex and his bandmates pull it off with sheer conviction and force of will; I don’t always know what they mean, but I know that they mean it. These tributes to youth and the strange clarity that comes six beers in could easily fall flat, but they don’t. They’re too universal, too emphatic, too loud and fast and freeing not to transcend.
In the end, how you feel about this record may mirror how you feel about life. Feeling old or cynical or unhappy with life? It’s possible that Beach Slang’s “we are here and we matter and life is happening” bombast will fail to make an impact, that it will sound trite or unrealistic. Then again, maybe The Things We Do To Find People Who Feel Like Us will be just what the doctor ordered. The record is a success, then, in accomplishing exactly what its title implies, and it very well may allow Beach Slang to find the people who feel like them night after night, finally realizing the dream that brought them together in the first place. As Alex himself said in a recent interview with Grantland (R.I.P.): “I don’t know why everyone isn’t in a band and [doesn’t get] drunk every night. It’s fucking heaven, man.”