These teenage feelings boldly claim their space and assert their relevance, as vital now as ever.
Few albums start off with a mission statement as direct as “Play it loud / play it fast.” It's not the only approach Beach Slang is open to, but it's the one that works on new album A Loud Bash of Teenage Feelings. Frontman James Alex doesn't offer any misdirection. The album title describes the disc and the first line of the album, on “Future Mixtape for the Art Kids”, starts the path that the band's going to take (though to be fair, they admit that playing it quiet can also save a life, such is the role of music for adolescents, and everyone who was one). Beach Slang blazes away with their custom openness, and they've perfectly nailed it.
The Replacements tend to get the most mention as an influence on Beach Slang (and “Spin the Dial” is probably a reference to turning it to the left), but that's only partly accurate. There are both pop-punk and '90s DIY (and mainstream alternative) sounds informing the music, yet the group doesn't sound derivative. They've managed to tap into that archetypal form without bowing to their predecessors. You might hear the 'Mats or the Buzzcocks or any number of bands from either '70s chugging or current Polyvinyl labelmates, yet Beach Slang are still themselves.
And who they are is a bit of the oddity. Alex writes these bare-heart teenage anthems that end up being high-risk (would I have been as receptive to such an opening line from a band without previous public and private acclaim?). Yet he succeeds, not because of his own youth, but because of his ability to tap into it from a distance. Alex writes for his audience and from himself but, now in his 40s, he's not looking back nostalgically on his youth. We're past the era of constantly questioning authenticity, and that gives us space to recognize Alex's accuracy and effectiveness in his writing.
Even so, there's a touch of the hyperreal here. “Punks in a Disco Bar” (despite being sort of outdated) and “Wasted Daze of Youth” sound so much like what they are, that it's hard not to hear a little meta-commentary in there. If they collaborated with Raymond Carver on an album called “What We Sing About When We Sing About Teenage Feelings”, it wouldn't be surprising, except that Carver's dead, so it would be a little unexpected.
But it works. Alex has the energy and ability to pull off lines like being an atom bomb and lifesaving music with a directness that carries impact. Alex wraps his head around all those messy feelings that can only come out in a loud bash. A musical success, Teenage Feelings sits alongside artier predecessors as well as bottled lightning like the Exploding Hearts or the Shackletons' under-appreciated debut. Its utility lies not just in giving a voice to young punks -- or to reminding us old punks where we were -- teasing out those old feelings as current and worthwhile experiences.
There may be a limit here, though. Comparing the beginnings of album bookends “Future Mixtape for the Art Kids” and “Warpaint” reveals a bit of formula. Beach Slang fronts the resistance of all the awfulness of confused experiences, and Alex's immediate articulations still ring true. “Don't be afraid to want to be alive” from the life-affirming “Warpaint”, may encapsulate the process of the album, but going forward, the band will have to resist packaging its experiences in a form (when “archetype” becomes “box”).
That's an old man's concern, though, and through two albums now, the teenage feelings boldly claim their space and assert their relevance, as vital now as ever.