Release Date: October 30, 2015
“I try a lot to write / I try to use my brain / But every time I try, my heart gets in the way.”
There are only two appropriate responses to Beach Slang’s debut album, The Things We Do to Find People Who Feel Like Us: rolling your eyes, or bawling them dry. No rock album in 2015 is less afraid to be exactly what it is — ten anthems of last-chance power-punk, broad and sincere enough to make Japandroids seem subtle and uncommitted by comparison. The LP runs a near half-hour, but about ten seconds into opener “Throwaways,” you’ll know whether you’re in or out — or, at least, you’ll know whether you’ll be in eventually. The most common immediate reaction to the Philadelphia quartet might be the one summarized by the above lyric, from Side-A climax “Ride the Wild Haze”: My brain tells me I should resist this, but I can already feel my heart starting to overrule it, and I can’t wait until it wins out for good.
It’s a little tough to explain. That score up there may read “7,” but that’s just because there’s no option for “10 if you think the Replacements are the greatest band ever when you’re drinking by yourself, 4 if you don’t” in our scoring system. Feel Like Us distills classic ‘Mats to its purest essence, essentially imagining a Tim where every song tried to be “Left of the Dial.” Songs repeatedly plow over the same musical terrain — it might take a couple of listens before you can even tell the difference between “Throwaways,” “Noisy Heaven,” and “Hard Luck Kid” — and half of them appear to be rooted in the same single open-A chord. Lyrics aim dead-center with combinations of the same three or four topics (being young, feeling alive, getting drunk, listening to and playing music loud) and hit with thudding obviousness: “The night is alive / It’s loud and I’m drunk,” “Get high enough to feel alive,” “I blur all this hurt into sound,” and so on and so on.
Making the equation more complicated is the fact that frontman James Alex, despite referring to himself as a “kid” in literally half the songs on the LP, is decidedly veteran — he doesn’t make a big point about his exact age, but considering he’s already known to ’90s pop-punk ‘heads for his Blossoms-meets-Blink work with cult favorites Weston, it’s pretty easy to do the math. Not like it isn’t obvious, anyway: Actual kids are never this excited about being young, and there’s a numbed desperation to lyrics like “Let’s make the loudest sounds until we feel something” and “Nothing really happens if you think it might” that betray Alex’s long-sufferingness. (Not to mention the title of “Too Late to Die Young” making the whole aging-punk thing heartbreakingly literal.) The overall impression of Feel Like Us is one of an ’80s- and Twin Cities-bred Homer Simpson, packing a week’s worth of real-life frustration and grown-up disillusionment into the half-hour a week he has in which to get funky, all the more urgent and enthralling for its desperation.
But the spark is unquestionably there, and flickering stronger for Alex’s mid-life urgency. Part of what separates Feel Like Us from the work of other Westerberg High alums — and even from Beach Slang’s earlier EPs, 2014’s Cheap Thrills on a Dead End Street and Who Would Ever Want Anything So Broken? — is the maximalized production, now co-helmed by Alex and engineer Dave Downham. Guitars are mixed loud for premium impact and left to ring in perpetuity, so that each power chord hits like that first gulp of ice-cold Yuengling. Alex’s voice is layered on itself to the point where he becomes his own first row of fans, howling along to every song. It’s a massive but exquisitely contained sound, one so immersive that by the time Alex starts hush-crooning “It’s hea-a-ven…” on late-album emotional climax “Porno Love,” you’re already floating there with him.
If there’s a central thesis to Feel Like Us, it’s that those confusing, exciting, and generally overwhelming feelings you have as a kid taking on the world for the first time are always worth keeping in touch with, no matter how far removed from them you get. The album’s escapism is alarmingly potent, to the point where it verges into the downright delusional, but its lack of self-consciousness is — somewhat ironically — the thing that keeps it in check. Beach Slang speed so far past the limits of good taste that they force you to question why it is that taste became so important to you in the first place. “I never cared if I was cool, fit in, or anything,” Alex sings on “Wild Haze,” and it reminds you what a powerful feeling that can be in the rare moments in life when it’s actually true. Or, as he says in the album’s press material: “Growing up and getting serious is wildly overrated stuff… Never retire from being alive. Move on it.” Few adults, if any, can heed that advice full-time, but if you can’t even find a half-hour a week for it, man, you might be in trouble.