October 30, 2015

Review: Beach Slang | The Things We Do To Find People Who Feel Like Us

With the skyrocketing success of his latest project and its debut album, James Alex, a/k/a James Alex Snyder, defies the expectations that so often get pegged to age. The 41-year-old punk-rock lifer passed the '90s with the beloved Bethlehem, PA troupe Weston, and along the way Mr. Snyder somehow evaded Neil Young's generally accepted ends for the "experienced" rocker. Last year Snyder quietly (at first) charted a new course, writing songs under the Beach Slang moniker. The project's profile rapidly ballooned in the wake of two legend-making 7" records and a strand of key live dates opening for The Hotelier, Cursive, and even Tommy (Fuckin') Stinson. And while Beach Slang has now delivered a towering debut LP, The Things We Do To Find People Who Feel Like Us released Oct. 30, the combo still comes off a very likeable underdog.

All that rocking in decades past has done nothing to dull the passion Snyder packs into his immediate, affecting guitar anthems, which are finding increasingly larger audiences these days. Fans can't help but root for the drunk guy on stage in his best blue blazer bashing and popping night after night as his band builds momentum and acclaim on both sides of the Atlantic. Snyder's songwriting boasts a strong narrative flair, and, not unlike those of his heroes Paul Westerberg and Blake Schwarzenbach, his songs scan like stories, each one poured out from the perspective of a lovable fuck-up, albeit minus the more marked defeatist streaks shading The 'Mats and Jawbreaker oeuvres. Beach Slang songs routinely fumble toward ecstasy and feel larger-than-life, and come wrapped up in Snyder's devout belief that rock 'n' roll can save (a message he presents again and again in jazzed social media postings and emails titled, not a little dramatically, A Very Short Book). The songs don't just have their sights trained on outcasts and disenchanted punks; they're also aspirational, uplifting guides on overcoming, escaping. Although the songs surely spring from specific, lived-in moments, their universal call-to-live is pointedly inclusive. Snyder wants to let the listener in, he wants the listener in on the proverbial party. Hell, it's in the damn title of the record. And it's also all over it, as in the final lyrics of the preview track "Bad Art & Weirdo Ideas," where Snyder insists "we are not alone, we aren't our mistakes."

Many of the LP's best moments are couched within posi platitudes, while others render bleary-eyed recollections of the previous night’s debauched revelry. Whether it’s drugs ("Ride The Wild Haze") or booze ("Noisy Heaven"), escape and the means of escape always underscore Snyder's mission to spark transcendence through inclusion, to get us all together to get us out of what we're stuck in. On "Young & Alive," Snyder exhorts "go punch the air with things you write." Songs as big and weighty as these need a hardened backing band to ground them. While they're just as game as on the early singles to turn most of the LP's figurative front nine into an all-out sprint, the more nuanced rhythmic shifts of the more varied B-side provide some respite. The tom-heavy swing of "Porno Love" drags out the song's drug-addled, long-drive ambiance where their traditional straight-ahead chug would smash right through, while the stop-and-start dynamics of the aforementioned "Young & Alive" should trip up drunk crowds in dank rock halls all year. Despite its soft touch, the highlight of the set may very well be the heart-felt "Too Late To Die Young," composed memorably but slightly of sighing strings and a few barely there piano plucks that accompany Snyder's plaintive voice.

The Things We Do To Find People Who Feel Like Us succeeds brilliantly without straying too far from a winning formula. Every part of the record drills messages of redemption into listeners' heads, and dare we say hearts. These are loud rock songs about finding solace in loud rock songs, and they will move a certain stripe of independent music fan in ways few other songs will this year -- or the next. And so the record more than delivers on the promise of Beach Slang's early singles by virtue of being even hookier, louder, and faster. After all, who needs pretense or metaphor when you can drink cheap beer and bare your soul with your friends in a basement somewhere? The Things We Do To Find People Who Feel Like Us is available now in various formats via Polyvinyl, and you can grab it right here. Beach Slang is also on tour right now, winding through the South and finishing off with a gig at Great Scott in Allston Nov. 24, before heading to the UK and Europe after the turn of the new year. All live dates can be found here. Stream "Young & Alive" and "Bad Art & Weirdo Ideas" via the Soundcloud embeds below. -- Dillon Riley

Beach Slang: Bandcamp | Facebook | Interzizzles

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