Songs We Love: Beach Slang, 'Punks In A Disco Bar'

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A still from Beach Slang's "Punks In A Disco Bar" video.

When Beach Slang's James Alex leaps up into the air with his guitar high above his head and then, miraculously, lands back on the stage right in sync with the downbeat, it's pure fist-pumping rock 'n' roll showmanship — and will drive anyone in the front row into a joyous frenzy. But when Alex sings — his voice raspy and ravaged from bellowing night after night — he's aiming squarely at the fans in the back, the ones shouting along to every word. In its short and mercurial life span, the Philly band has mastered this remarkable ability to tailor its performances to both crowds with equal weight; it will satisfy anyone looking simply to be entertained, while also extending a hand to those in need of community and, perhaps, salvation.

Last year's The Things We Do To Find People Who Feel Like Us was a shoebox full of love letters to the cramped basement shows where Alex had found like-minded friends, and to the records he'd turned to when he needed escape from tough times. Explosive and galvanizing, those songs were also his personal addition to that canon, intended as both emotional release and inspiration for the misfits of today.

"Punks In A Disco Bar," the first single from Beach Slang's forthcoming A Loud Bash Of Teenage Feelings, picks up where the band left off. Packed with charred guitar riffs, seething feedback and heart-rate-raising drum fills, the song is another of Alex's unifying anthems. Influenced by the stories of countless fans whom the band (including bassist Ed McNulty and guitarist Ruben Gallego) met during a tumultuous year on the road, the song earnestly touches on the energy and alienation of youth, and on rising above our struggles together.

Those themes come into play in a new music video for "Punks In A Disco Bar." Shooting in grainy Super 8mm film, director and cinematographer Jason Lester conjures the look and feel of sun-warped and decayed home movies to depict parallel narratives. The first follows the boozy misadventures of a group of young outcasts as they meander through a small California town. We see them smoking and taking flask swigs near a construction site, hanging out in a crummy motel room, swimming in the pool and even wearing eerie animal masks. Meanwhile, a gaunt and leathery older man in a big Stetson hat cruises around the sprawl in his cherry Cadillac. It's all intercut with dreamy bokeh flares and translucent textures, as if someone is trying to hazily piece together what went down the previous night — or recall a long-forgotten memory.

For most of the video, it's unclear how these two stories will intersect, if at all, yet it all begins to seem a little ominous — like we're watching the first act of a horror flick, just moments before something terrible goes down. Regardless of the story's mysterious outcome (one could easily imagine the narrative continuing in future songs' videos), it's clear these are the types of lost kids that Beach Slang is writing about and playing for. It's a glimpse into what it's like to be young, misunderstood and out of place, yet finding belonging in each other. It's the perfect complement to "Punks In A Disco Bar" and an ode to the motifs and life-affirming mission of Beach Slang.

In an email, Alex describes a conversation with the video's director:

Jason Lester, the filmmaker, said it to me like this: "...a gritty, cinematic collage of Americana, debauchery and youth." And I thought, "Yeah, let's make the thing." My only direction notes were: the 1970s, Super 8mm, outsider kids, weirdo art and California. I mean, to me, Beach Slang is a great, big, beautiful mess of trying-to-figure-it-all-out. It is soft and tough. It is cigarettes and flowers. I don't know. I suppose it looks a whole lot like this.

A Loud Bash Of Teenage Feelings comes out Sept. 23 on Polyvinyl.

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