Beach Slang: The Things We Do To Find People Who Feel Like Us (2015)
I have absolutely no intention of discussing Beach Slang or its first full-length album without first discussing the fairly remarkable journey of frontman James Alex Snyder. Snyder played in punkish bands back in the ’90s, did the thing everyone does where he grew up and moved on, got a job in graphic design, and that was that. Then, in 2013, Snyder started Beach Slang, put out a couple of excellent and exciting EPs, and has just now released The Things We Do To Find People Who Feel Like Us. He’s clear of 40 years old, and he doesn’t give a fuck.
Stories about rock songwriters hitting their stride at an advanced age will always get to me as an aspiring creative person who constantly feels the helpless damnation of time slipping away. Even better, Snyder strives to play the kind of high-energy punk/rock/power pop that I hold so dearly to my heart, and a fair amount of the time he hits his mark with aplomb. There are 10 songs on Things, and the very longest of the bunch clocks in at 3:19. With the exception of the over-the-top balladry of “Too Late to Die Young,” almost everything here quickly establishes a frantic pace, rushes to the finish line, and leaves little to the imagination. There are guitars everywhere.
And let it be said that Snyder is wise to keep it short and sweet. Without a lot in the way of dynamic shifts, ragers like “Throwaways” and “I Break Guitars” need to come through the door with arms flailing and leave in a hurry to avoid overstaying their welcome. Snyder’s more aggressive fare is the best he has to offer, and framing it correctly in terms of length and album position is a big plus.
“Too Late to Die Young” and the shoulder-slumping “Porno Love” are the slowest, saddest tracks on the album, and they just don’t work very well. Perhaps the biggest issue with them is also present in the uptempo offerings, but it’s just a lot less noticeable with the additional gusto in tow to keep things interesting. That issue? Not a single song on this album does a whole lot to distinguish itself or provide variance. The same chords and chord structures are bandied about over and over again, they’re just repackaged. There are lots of stops and starts. There is a lot of playing the first chord in a progression, moving to the second, and then going right on back to the first.
I’m aware that some have taken issue with Snyder’s Paul Westerberg/John Rzeznik hybrid-rasp, and I get it. I personally don’t find it grating, and I think it works in context, but I can see how it could be off-putting. More of an issue for me is the shiny production, which serves to dull the edges of what should be a more visceral experience than it winds up being. The rougher work on Beach Slang’s previous pair of EPs was a much better template to work with, as it makes a whole lot more sense to actually sound like you’re alive and reeling and coming apart at the seams when that’s your subject material.
The lack of lyrical specificity in these songs is another issue, one that kind of mirrors a similar issue in the music itself. Snyder has his mantras, he shouts them, and then he backs off. I absolutely love it when bands throw caution to the wind and sing about their own mortality, what’s it like to just let loose, and what it’s like to get lost in your dreams. Snyder sounds more like he’s writing lyrics he thinks a band like that might put to paper rather than devising words cut from his personal cloth.
As much as I have enjoyed listening to Things here and there in the weeks since its release, it’s missing something vital. I’m not just talking about the shortcomings I elaborated on above, I’m talking about the indescribable factor that makes similarly-minded bands click at a higher level. The most direct line one could draw to Beach Slang comes from Japandroids, a two-man adrenaline show also trafficking catchy and abbreviated songs with the power to bowl a person over. Fact of the matter is, Japandroids do this kind of thing a whole lot better, and so did The Replacements. Sure, the depth of the songwriting is a factor, but more important is that intangible buzz that just isn’t quite present on Things. Whatever it is, I hope it shows up on the next Beach Slang record, because I’m rooting very hard for this to work.