The teenage perspective is a narcissistic one; every emotion is heightened, every hiccup is the end of the world, and life feels like a movie in which you are the star and every little thing takes on the significance of a major plot point. With age and the benefit of hindsight comes a huge sigh of relief: the realization that teenage problems, while formative, are also relative. Your first love may not be your only, and in fact neither might your tenth or eleventh. But James Alex doesn’t want you to discount the validity of those first feelings. At 42, the frontman of Beach Slang could easily brush aside the drama of teenage angst as just that. With A Loud Bash of Teenage Feelings, however, he does the opposite: Beach Slang’s second album is an ode to the reality of that first love, and demonstrates Alex’s poetic ability to inhabit the mindset of the younger generation accurately and sympathetically.
Less than a year after debut EP The Things We Do to Find People Who Think Like Us, Beach Slang has reinforced their place as one of the most genuine voices in rock. After playing in punk band Weston in his 20s, followed by a stint as a graphic designer, Alex teamed up with drummer JP Flexner, bassist Ed McNulty, and guitarist Ruben Gallego. Their surprise (and practically overnight) success was an ode to the post-internet music industry; their EP garnered a positive Pitchfork review, and subsequently a following, before they had even played a single live show together. They were immediately lauded for their sincere lyrics and catchy confessional anthems, with a roiling energetic sound reminiscent of The Replacements.
With Loud Bash, Beach Slang builds on the solid foundations laid in The Things We Do. The sound is still powerful, establishing an energy that doesn’t let up until the penultimate track of the album. Alex’s growling vocals are complemented by Gallego’s strong and deftly controlled guitar work, which is especially notable in “The Perfect High”. There is a precision to their sound that belies the many years of previous experience between them. This is especially notable for punk music, a genre inherently built around uncontrollable emotions; their music successfully embodies the explosive and chaotic energy of teenagehood while retaining complete structural control. “Punks in a Disco Bar”, the single released prior to Loud Bash, is a roiling ballad that brings to mind images of high school abandon punctuated by cigarettes behind bleachers and late night beers on the football field. Yet, as a track, it doesn’t sound accidentally great; it always sounds like Alex & co. know exactly what emotions and nostalgic feelings they’re tugging at.
Alex’s lyrics throughout the album are part and parcel of Beach Slang’s authenticity; he manages to voice the universal concerns of youth without moralizing or framing it in the context of overt nostalgia. When he sings “Play me something that might save my life” in opening track “Future Mixtape for the Art Kids” he is acting as a conduit for lonely teenagers everywhere, creating a self-aware song that could be the very one that consoles the kids he’s speaking for. He equally revels in the gritty depiction of degenerate youth, with all the experimental sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll that entails. In “Spin the Dial” he confronts drunken self-loathing, singing “Radio is loud and wild, but I’m too drunk to spin the dial”, and turning to drugs by the end of the track.
Age isn’t a distancing factor in this album; instead it unites. Despite the age difference between Alex and many of his teenage fans, he manages to tell their stories in a frank and believable way. The themes of loneliness, discovery, and uncertainty speak to the generation experiencing them in the now, as well as anyone who ever has. Alex manages to vividly recreate the teenage experience without moralizing, belittling, or coming off disingenuous. In effect, he realizes that being a teenager involves a bit of narcissism and a bit of the flair for the dramatic, but that doesn’t make those first experiences any less valid. B PLUS