Beach Slang is one of those bands that suspiciously straddles the DMZ between punk and indie rock, much in the same way that Superchunk, The Promise Ring and Screaming Females (among umpteen others) did before them. This is to say that the band’s sound and ethos is more or less punk, but that they’ve somehow managed to build a buzz in the indie/hipster scene, thereby gaining access to a somewhat bigger audience and somewhat better paying gigs. Case in point: Beach Slang’s 12:30 p.m. set on the first day of the Shaky Knees Festival a couple of weeks ago.
Shaky Knees is a big festival. So, while the 12:30 slot wasn’t exactly prime time, there were at least a few hundred people straggling in as Beach Slang started to play.
Beach Slang knocked out shambolic renditions of three or four songs before disaster struck and frontman/auteur James Alex broke a guitar string. Of course, the band brought along a cadre of girlfriends and hangers on lurking on the side of the stage. But, of course, they didn’t have the foresight to deal with inevitable problems. They didn’t have an extra guitar or a guitar tech on hand to remedy the problem. Hell, I’m surprised they remembered to bring an extra guitar string.
So, after fumbling around with his guitar for a couple-three minutes, Alex saw fit to hand off the repair duties to lead guitarist Ruben Gallego. The end result is that almost ten minutes of the band’s short set time was squandered while Gallego restrung and retuned Alex’s guitar. During this time, Alex commandeered Gallego’s guitar and played snippets of songs by Rick Springfield and The Cure. Yeah, that sure was cute. The whole thing seemed more like something that would go down at a basement punk rock party, not on the stage of a major festival.
Thankfully, after the broken string snafu the band managed to regain its velocity and deliver five or six more passionate if not pitch-perfect songs before they ran out of time. The songs were short, sassy and sloppy. But hey, this is punk rock, right? This is the paradox of Beach Slang – and its charm.
Beach Slang’s debut long-player, excessively titled The Things We Do to Find People Who Feel Like Us, is a roughly hewn jewel of an album that’s way short on precision and waaaay long on intensity and feeling. So, this means it’s emo, right? Well, not exactly.
The Things We Do is a punk record. I’m talking about the lower case punk sensibility of bands like Jawbreaker and The Replacements, not the straightjacketed, sloganeering capital P Punk of MDC and Crass. In other words, it’s rough and rowdy, melodic rock that’s from the heart, man. Or something.
All but one of the album’s 10 blistering tracks clock in under the three-minute mark, which is just fine. This kind of punk should be terse and to-the-point. Rather than overstaying its welcome, the band hits hard and leaves the listener reeling. And the sound of the album, well, it’s great. It sounds like a live band that’s onstage and in the moment: Everything is loud enough – which is to say it’s all loud. So you can hear the missed notes, minimal tempo fluctuations and when the singer gets out of tune, which is (endearingly) most of the time. Again, this is punk rock.
Granted, Beach Slang isn’t delivering anything new. Alex implores, “If rock ‘n’ roll is dangerous, how come I feel so safe in it? I have learned to destroy, to irritate and annoy with clumsy hearts and honest frets and ugly sound.” Punk rock is a 40-year-old form of folk music where it’s all been done before. The question is, is it worth doing again?
The Things We Do answers the above question with a resounding YES. The X-factor here is Alex’s lyrics, which are intensely sincere but never smarmy or cloying. It’s as if this guy, Alex (who is probably 40 years old himself, BTW), is on a junkie’s quest to relive that punk rock buzz just one more time. And this time, this last time, it feels real – or as real as “real” is gonna get, anyway. Chase that buzz, baby. Chase that buzz till it all burns out in a blinding flash of whatever.
The Things We Do to Find People Who Feel Like Us