YOU CAN BE FORGIVEN for wanting to ignore the hype that's avalanching around Beach Slang. Here's yet another band out of America's number-one rock city, Philadelphia, already home to innumerable buzz bands like Hop Along and Kurt Vile and Girlpool—all of whom have received heaps of (well-deserved) praise. But the tenor of the talk around Beach Slang (oof, yet another "Beach" band?) has reached proselytizing proportions. Saviors of rock 'n' roll. Throwbacks to punk's golden age. Blustery, big-hearted tunes from the ultimate survivors.
Spare me, right? But one listen to Beach Slang's debut album, the 27-minute-long The Things We Do to Find People Who Feel Like Us (a title that takes almost as long to say as it does to play the album through), you'll find yourself agreeing with the evangelists. Its 10 songs are powerful and indelible and painful and honest and undeniably great—cooked from the bones of full-roar punk, but with big chunks of pop heart, singer/songwriter introspection, and booze-soaked, Replacements-y heartache. How did a brand-new band with only two EPs' worth of experience and a bag of very old tricks arrive at this place of perfection?
Part of the secret is that Beach Slang's frontman, James Alex, has been here before; he's a veteran in the best sense of the word. Alex's first time at bat was way back in the guitar-rock heyday of the 1990s as a member of Weston, a Pennsylvania band that crafted noisy odes to bad luck, teen angst, and loserdom—they were the Milhouse of '90s pop-punk bands. But after more than a decade out of the tour van, Alex's wholeheartedly thrown himself back into the pit with Beach Slang.
"I went back to art school and started to do a real job," he says of the years following Weston's 2001 breakup. "Trying to figure life out, right? But I was never going to stop music. I feel like that's really not even a choice that's offered to me. It is a compulsive need for me to want to write music, which I feel really lucky about. As maddening as it can be sometimes, I feel really lucky to have that chip in me."
Alex assembled a crew of younger musicians from the Philly scene—Ed McNulty (of Crybaby and Nona), JP Flexner (of Ex-Friends), and Ruben Gallego—and picked the name Beach Slang after hearing some snarky comment about the proliferation of indie bands with "Beach" in their name. "The time just felt right to really, really have another go at it," Alex says. "Even though I love graphic design, and I love the other things I do in life, none of them have ever felt like how it feels when you plug a guitar in and just hit that thing. There's magic in that, and I missed that."
That feeling is all over The Things We Do to Find People Who Feel Like Us, infused into its clenched-fist, euphoric anthems. Beach Slang don't avoid rock clichés—they lean directly into them, finding the kernels of truth at their heart and blowing them up widescreen.
"A writer I was doing an interview with described it as 'love letters to rock 'n' roll,'" Alex says when asked about the album's overall sentiment. "And I thought that was really beautiful. I think back on my life and to me, man, rock 'n' roll is holy. Everything it's done for me, I kind of want to shout that out—and hope it does that on some level for other people, be it people I care about, or people I haven't yet met, whatever the deal is. So yeah, I'm trying to turn people on to what it can be. And take that for what it's worth—if that's not your trip, that's cool if it's not the thing that lights you up. But I can only speak about what I know."
"Young and Alive" and "Bad Art and Weirdo Ideas" are tales you've heard before—probably lived before—but Beach Slang turns them into full-volume gospel, familiar refrains that gain power in repetition. Alex has managed an amazing feat of holding onto the swooning, romantic ideals we all shared once upon a time, but which often subside in tandem with age, to be replaced by jobs and houses and cars and kids. "Too Late to Die Young," the album's one moment of acoustic fragility, might be its most charged moment, a prayer of devotion to rock 'n' roll:
The punks are wired and these records feel tough
It's loud and wild but I swear it feels soft
Yeah, it's always enough
It's always been enough.
Maybe it's easy to label Beach Slang as torchbearers for punk rock, but Alex recognizes that torches are meant to be passed, too. "Here's the whole reason I stayed in this thing," he says. "The very first show I ever went to was the Ramones, and I walked into the place and it was outer space, man, it was a different world. And when the Ramones played, the place just exploded. I didn't know what a pit was, I didn't know what slam dancing was—and I just got annihilated. And I remember just getting picked up by these older punks by a little scruff of hair, and they just looked at me like proud fathers, you know?
"I suppose that thing is in me: to want to give back to the thing that meant so much to me when I was starting out. I can't shake that off."