“This guitar wants to die,” James Alex sings at the very end of “Filthy Luck,” a fan favorite originally recorded at the very beginning of Alex’s band, Beach Slang, back in 2013. That version, awash in Replacements guitars and thrashing drums, is a far cry from the cello and piano-laced version on Everything Matters But No One Is Listening—the debut LP of Alex’s latest project, the appropriately monikered Quiet Slang.
After a well-received NPR Tiny Desk Concert that saw the anthemic noise of Beach Slang stripped down to just Alex and a guitar, the velvet suit, ruffle shirt-wearing frontman decided to dial back the decibels and give some of his most beloved cuts a makeover. “Future Mixtape for the Art Kids” and “Warpaint,” both from 2016’s A Loud Bash Of Teenage Feelings, served as the jumping off point for Alex, who felt the songs had more to give. “I was really proud of those things when I wrote them, but, once they left my home studio, something sort of slipped away,” he explained in a statement about the album. “When they went loud, they never quite found the emotion I knew was tucked inside of them.”
It’s an orchestral pop take on the emo of the early aughts—the kind that soundtracked many a gauge-wearing, scene-queen bride’s walk down the aisle. And he’s right that songs like “Too Late To Die Young” and “Bad Art & Weirdo Ideas” are given a poignancy that’s missing from the thrashing, “fuck you”-ness of their earlier recorded versions.
However, consisting of 10 Beach Slang covers and not a new tune in the bunch, Everything Matters winds up feeling a little self-indulgent. Maybe an EP of re-worked covers, or a few b-sides tacked onto the end of the next album, or a special moment when acoustic versions are played during a Beach Slang show—but a full LP of songs all originally released within the last five years? Not sure if it’s necessary.
What this stripped-down presentation does do for the songs is draw more attention to Alex’s lyrics. As arrant and filled with rebel-trite as they may be, (try “Carve your name / Soft across my lungs / I wanna braaayth / You until I’m numb” from “Filthy Luck,” or “It’s a dead-end town for trash like us / But I got a full tank and a couple bucks” from “Throwaways”) there’s something to be said for unabashed emotion—the unprotected beating heart that lies at the center of everything Alex writes. Underdog to the extreme, his music has always spoken to those who always feel like outsiders, and those same fans are likely to cherish these hyper-emotional renditions.
While cellist Dan Delaney and pianist Keith Giosa play beautifully, it’s basically the same arrangement across every track. Similarly, Alex’s vocal delivery pretty much flatlines as well, giving a snoozy cloud of sameness to the album. Die-hard fans will love it, but for everyone else, Everything Matters But No One Is Listening probably won’t matter much at all.