Who Would Ever Want Anything So Broken?
by Chad Jewett
Who Would Ever Want Anything So Broken?, the debut EP from Philadelphia punk nostalgists Beach Slang, is ten minutes of instinct music, a seemingly effortless dispatch of fizzy, soft-focus emo that quakes and bursts beneath a thin layer of dust. Pocked with the same charmed fatalism that defined Jawbreaker and still defines Superchunk, the EP’s four songs are resolutely tuneful, major key, wistful — aural versions of the gently nostalgic, faded paper of the record’s cover. Compromised of once and future members of Weston, Ex-Friends, and Crybaby, Beach Slang are a band of lifers, veterans whose sense for how pop-punk works, and how it works on you, is essentially muscle-memory. Indeed, as spry twists of guitar (haloed with a light touch of Cure watercolor) curl around interludes of “Filthy Luck,” as the bridge of “Kids” offers its passing quiet, mainly as mood-music for an approaching swell, you begin to realize, in reverse, that there is a very definite aesthetic, more specific than “pop punk” or “emo,” that Beach Slang is tracing with breezy, adept confidence.
Which means that Who Would Ever Want Anything So Broken? is also record collection music. More than particular bands, the 7” evokes certain albums, perhaps even certain afternoons spent with albums. There is a late-spring quality to these four songs, an evocation of light breaking through flora. While singer James Snyder has a raspy, stung hitch in his throat redolent of Blake Schwarzenbach, to spend a little time with Beach Slang is not only to recall the thorny pop instincts of “Oyster” or “Ache” but more specifically, it means having a sense of the air around those songs, the spaces we make for them in our lives. Beach Slang’s debut sounds aged, but not artificially so. Instead, Who Would Ever Want Anything So Broken? is entirely plausible as the kind of record you’d find amongst horizontal stacks in some out-of-town store. Its sepia-toned version of heartbreak is vaguely pre-internet, even as the EP studiously avoids emo retro-isms. It might be because the three-piece has a dogged trust in certain chords and melodies as sturdy vessels for a particular kind of poignancy. “Punk Or Lust” crafts an austere riff out of a climbing vine of guitar that see-saws back and forth, as catchy and instinctive as a nursery rhyme, a post-hardcore sing-song. The EP seems to be constantly finding new ways of asking “Remember how it all felt?”
“Get Lost” is simplicity itself – built from a descending progression and drums that come and go like italics in a monologue. Snyder uses that up/down topography for the kind of mid-Atlantic urban narratives one would associate with Lifetime (or Springsteen), offering quick phrases of steely impressionism: “The city sleeps in a pattern of broken junk.” There are short pauses dotting the landscape of “Get Lost,” moments where Snyder is alone to offer missives like “I watch your palm hug your guitar / It buzzes like a bomb / I hardly talk / My lips are carved with lust and clumsy thoughts.” Those brief spells arrive as quiet glimpses of imagism, underlining the ways in which Beach Slang seem almost startlingly tuned in to the golden details of mid-90s punk and emo, to the way individual sentences can become as indelible as the twenty miles around your hometown. Some of the EP’s charm is simply intangible; some of it is deceptively simple – a band that learned lessons from Samiam and The Bouncing Souls and their own creative pasts and whittled the whole thing down to something elemental. At one point during “Filthy Luck,” Snyder channels more of emo’s golden-era barbed romanticism, singing “I carved your name, soft across my lungs.” Odds are you can think of at least two dozen or so songs where the line would fit like a charm — which, of course, is exactly the point. Who Would Ever Want Anything So Broken? arrives shaped to fill a gap you didn’t even know was there, washed up on shore like a message in a bottle.