The opening seconds of Beach Slang’s debut record sound like the release of years of bottled-up energy, an inextricable surge of frustration and determination.
The cranked rhythm, loud, distorted guitars and gruff vocals of James Alex are the touchstones of Beach Slang’s melodic, meat-and-potatoes punk rock, but the beating heart of the band’s music is Alex’s earnest, forthcoming songwriting. A perpetual unease frames these songs, and the antidote, the lifeline that Alex hangs onto, comes from the music itself.
The songs on The Things We Do To Find People Who Feel Like Us are mined from the same portion of the soul where Beach Slang heroes like The Replacements and Jawbreaker toiled. Lines like “It’s a dead-end town for trash like us” (from “Throwaways”) and “The night is alive, it’s loud and I’m drunk” (from “Noisy Heaven”) stake out the opposite ends of the spectrum for The Things We Do, describing a life that’s all blurred edges until the right song makes everything fall into place.
There’s a guiding sense of community and camaraderie in Alex’s lyrics. He knows who his fellow misfits are in this world and in solidarity, Beach Slang made a record pointed directly at them. Singing “We are not alone,” Alex is the reassuring confidant in “Bad Art & Weird Ideas.” And on “Ride the Wild Haze,” he speaks in language that any damaged, obstinate, misunderstood, abused or marginalized kid knows too well: “I feel most alive when I’m listening to every record that hits harder than the pain.”
Album highlights like “Noisy Heaven” and “I Break Guitars” speak directly to the experience of rising above the muck and the shit, of playing in a band and chasing moments of ecstasy and vitality in any dingy setting they might be found.
The album’s first half ends with the cool-down, reflective “Too Late to Die Young,” the distortion traded for an acoustic guitar, cello and piano. “It’s loud and wild but I swear it feels soft,” sings Alex, and it’s in that line that his inner peace emerges. In a bedroom, with the headphones on, the wild, buzzing urgency of punk rock can be as comforting as a lullaby.
Like the two 2014 Beach Slang EPs that proceeded it—Cheap Thrills On A Dead End Street and Who Would Ever Want Anything So Broken?—The Things We Do depends on the urgency and honesty that Alex, drummer JP Flexner, bassist Ed McNulty and guitarist Ruben Gallego bring to the songs.
The Things We Do is a record for anyone who’s ever felt, even for a moment, that music is what matters the most. For any hard-luck kid or nowhere bum who needs it, that escape is heaven.