First there’s the choppy E chord, revving the song like a boot stomping a gas pedal: the sound of all that excess energy built up at the start of the night. Then comes James Alex’s fine-grain sandpaper voice: “Play it loud, play it fast / Play me something that will always last / Play it soft, play it quiet / Play me something that might save my life…”
James Alex, songwriter and front man for Philly indie-punk outfit Beach Slang, knows wherefrom he sings. Like a lot of us, Alex is that kid Lou Reed sang about, the one whose life was saved by rock and roll. And A Loud Bash Of Teenage Feelings (Polyvinyl), Beach Slang’s second full-length, is just that—a crash-and-thunder collection of songs about what it takes to keep yourself going, to make it through the rest of the night—hell, through the rest of your youth—and beyond.
Coming off a string of acclaimed EPs, Beach Slang’s first album, 2015’s The Things We Do To Find People Who Feel Like Us, won remarkably effusive acclaim from a number of critics, and wound up on several “best-of-the-year” lists. James wrote much of A Loud Bash Of Teenage Feelings on that album’s support tour, during which he spent a lot of time with the kids who’d picked up the record.
“A lot of the songs [on Loud Bash] are the stories of the kids who got turned on to Beach Slang by the first album,” says Alex. “They’re autobiographical, too, but kind of at a remove—I’m not that young kid anymore, but I used to be. You know how it is; rock and roll is a new crop of 15-year-olds picking up guitars every year and having at it. There was something really cool about documenting someone elses life, but seeing myself in it. I suppose that’s why we connect. We’re all kind of one big gang.”
The same could be said of Beach Slang itself, whose members came together very organically. After logging 15 years in Weston, the much-praised Philly hardcore punk outfit, Alex brought the songs that would become Beach Slang’s first EP to an impromptu jam session with outside musicians, including future bassist Ed McNulty. “It felt right, right away,” says James. “It was one of those rock and roll moments.” When second guitarist Ruben Gallego joined them soon after, Alex knew they’d found the formula for Beach Slang, a band that draws in equal measure from punk’s raw energy and powerpop’s emotional forthrightness—a combination that Alex found himself resonating with as he moved into adulthood and became a father.
Going into the second record, Alex didn’t feel a sense of pressure to match the broad, unexpected success of the first. “What I did feel was a sense of responsibility to the kids who told me they were finding something in our music that brought them back from a bad place, the ones who were getting Beach Slang tattoos and quoting lyrics to me after the shows. I don’t want to let those people down. As a 20 year-old, I thought, hey, let’s all have fun, we’re gonna live forever. You don’t really see the finish line. Now it’s more like, am I leaving behind work that’s going to matter? What’s this going to say about me when I run out of air, and my son is listening to these records and tapes that I left behind. Is he going to say, “Yeah, my dad was all right”? These days I feel like I’m responsible for things bigger than myself. And I want to do right by them.”
Indeed, Alex is that rare songwriter who can create songs that blend his own Young Man Blues with the grown man’s earned perspective. Check the arresting “Punks In A Disco Bar” and “Spin The Dial” for his skill at merging full-throttle hooks with memorable, whip-smart lyrics, or “Art Damage” and “Wasted Daze Of Youth” for a lesson in how rock and roll can be sinister and dissonant, and still end up beautiful.
For all the volume and the fuzz and the fury, Beach Slang is a band for sloppy romantics who got there the hard way (“I still taste you in the ash / of every cigarette you kill,” sings Alex). And that’s how the band wants it: “Whether this Beach Slang thing flies or falls,” says Alex, “we want to know that we put everything into it. We’re a rock and roll band; we make records and we tour. We want to sweat it and bleed it. We want to do it like the bands we love and respect did it.
“Without these guys,” James Alex says, “my life would feel really, really empty. And I have a full, beautiful life. But you know how some people have the ‘god hole’? I have the rock and roll hole. I’m that kid with the posters on his wall. Whether I’m right or I’m wrong, I’ve convinced myself this is why I’m here.” Beach Slang—plug it in, turn it up, and let it scream.