Dont be fooled by the bowties: Phillys finest might just be the most raucous band of the moment if they can hold it together
If James Alex ever gave up the day job, you suspect he could make a decent living as a motivational life coach. Barely a minute of conversation with the Beach Slang singer and guitarist goes by without him offering up a quotable nugget of existential advice: A life without regrets is not a life well lived; Theres an infinite amount of reasons to be happy to exist; Never retire from being alive! Theyre the sort of aphorisms you might see pinned up on an office noticeboard accompanied by dodgy clipart. Alex, though, really means this stuff, and he delivers it with such wide-eyed enthusiasm that, after an hour in his company, youre ready to believe it too.
Sadly for the lifestyle guru industry, Alex has chosen to use his powers of persuasion in the pursuit of punk rock, something he believes in with evangelical ardour. Rocknroll to me is holy. I want to honour it properly, he proclaims. Beach Slang are certainly living up to that aim. On record the Philadelphia band are making some of the most giddy guitar music of the moment, accompanied by live shows that are rarely less than a riot.
Perhaps Alexs zeal for punk rock is down to being afforded a second chance at practising it. He spent his 20s in a sloppy three-chord punk band called Weston but then gave up on the idea of making music for a living, went to art school and found a job in graphic design. The bug never left him, though. He spent his free time working on new music, which hed perform at open mics. When he played his songs to drummer JP Flexner, he in turn recruited bassist Ed McNulty and guitarist Ruben Gallego, and Beach Slang was born.
What followed is indicative of the strange accelerated world of the post-internet music industry. Before theyd ever done any live shows Beach Slang recorded an EP, which received a favourable review on Pitchfork and garnered buzz on social media. By the time the band got around to playing their first gig people at the show were singing every word.
In truth, Beach Slang are the kind of band you want to belt out every word to, preferably while showering yourself with a keg of beer. Their songs conjure up the sort of bratty but romantic visions of the Replacements and, latterly, the Hold Steady and Fucked Up adolescent in their outlook, conjuring up the confusion and excitement of negotiating adult life for the first time. That these songs of teenage abandon are sung by Alex, a man in his 40s, make them more rather than less affecting.
When I write I imagine that Im scoring a John Hughes film, Alex says. When youre hitting those teen years, its the first time youre tasting freedom, finding your voice, shaking things up. That doesnt stop after youre a teenager, but the thrill of that first awakening is what I tap into.