The switch from loud and brash guitar punk to delicate balladry forces Alex’s vocals and lyrics to the front.
James Alex was in his early 40s when he formed Beach Slang, the Philadelphia band that played chiming punk with an irritating catchiness and such lyrics as, “I feel most alive/ When I’m listening/ To every record that hits harder than the pain” and “The lowest lives and the desperate ones/ You are the light of the damaged and fucked”. Yet these juvenile anthems about teenage fuck-ups describe something Alex last experienced a quarter century ago–and something his target audience probably experienced last weekend. Screaming along to, “There’s a light on those filthy streets/ Where the throwaways get weird and free” while soaked in sweat is cathartic but not exactly enlightening or enduring, and its albums The Things We Do to Find People Who Feel Like Us (2015) and A Loud Bash of Teenage Feelings (2016) sprinted through 10 songs in under a half-hour.
Quiet Slang began as a way for Alex to play solo shows, and first bore recorded fruit with last year’s EP We Were Babies & We Were Dirtbags. As the name suggests, this is a quieter version of Alex’s main group, featuring only his hushed vocals accompanied by piano and swelling orchestration. On the EP, Alex converted two ‘Slang songs alongside two covers (The Replacements’ “Androgynous” and Big Star’s “Thirteen”) into saccharine fragility, with mostly positive results. The first Quiet Slang album, Everything Matters But No One Is Listening resembles Beach Slangs’ full-lengths in that it features10 songs and a wordy, overwrought title. That’s where the similarities end.
Yes, Everything includes variations on Beach Slang material, but the switch from loud and brash guitar punk to delicate balladry forces Alex’s vocals and lyrics to the front. Thus, such lyrics as “Bathe my bones in alcohol/ So I don’t have to think at all” from “Spin the Dia,” or “the nothing kids” are “saints of danger” in “Young Hearts” (that title!) that might have sounded anthemic (if corny) in the high-energy Beach Slang template here sound merely silly. .
One wonders why this album even exists, other than an excuse to tour. There are pretty moments here, as when backing vocals take over on the stunning bridge of “Dirty Cigarettes,” and when the beautiful, wordless refrain of “Bad Art & Weirdo Ideas” transforms the song from anthem to absolution. Better still, the versions of “Throwaways” and “Warpaint” almost equal the originals in spite of the former’s overdone orchestration of the former and the latter’s electronic experimenting. Unfortunately, none of that elevates Everything beyond perfectly fine chamber pop that may best function as background music. Alex himself should know the reason why. “Future Mixtape for the Art Kids,” among Beach Slang’s most aggressive (read: best) songs, opens with Alex singing, “Play it loud, play it fast/ Play me something that will always last”. Sadly, Quiet Slang, despite its more elegant pleasures, doesn’t follow his own advice.