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There's something almost cheeky about the title of James Alex's new project: Quiet Slang. As the name implies, Alex is embracing minimalism, smothering the fuzz in favor of a cello, a piano, and his voice. In October 2017, Quiet Slang released We Were Babies & We Were Dirtbags, an EP comprised of two Beach Slang songs and two covers from The Replacements and Big Star. Consider it an introduction to what Alex calls "chamber pop for outsiders," because it simply serves as prelude to Everything Matters But No One Is Listening, a collection of 10 Beach Slang covers.
The project's seeds were planted just six months after Beach Slang's formation, when Alex was asked to a solo Tiny Desk Concert for NPR. "That was just me, my guitar and a clumsy excuse for charm. But, yeah, the response was beautifully unexpected and really nudged my thinking," he says. "Even now, at almost every show we play somebody's like, ‘I got turned onto your band from that NPR thing. You should make a record like that.'" A successful solo tour solidified the idea in Alex's mind, but he says he wasn't content to make a "campfire record," elaborating that he "wanted it to have more weight than that." Alex linked up with longtime co-producer Dave Downham for the project, who worked with him in bringing on cellist Dan Delaney and pianist Keith Giosa. Rounding out the crew were Stacey Downham, Matt Weber, Charlie Lowe and New Jersey quartet The Warhawks, who lent their voices to evoke what Alex describes as a "back alley choir."
The songs that spoke first and foremost to Alex were songs that he feels never quite achieved the vision initially had for them: "Future Mixtape for the Art Kids" and "Warpaint," both from 2016's A Loud Bash of Teenage Feelings. "Future Mixtape For the Art Kids" is a rousing document of rebellion on A Loud Bash of Teenage Feelings, but the subdued strings and soft piano of Quiet Slang reveal a love story among outsiders, a midnight connection in dim streets as beautiful as they are cruel. And while the gritted teeth of "Warpaint" remain in its quiet rendition, the empathy coursing through Alex's call to strength and spirit here conquers his anger. "Warpaint," and the album itself, closes with the last verse being played in reverse, a choice that helps to further distinguish Beach Slang from Quiet Slang. "I wanted the record to end not with a word, but a feeling," he says, "even if it's uneasy or hopeful or whatever. Just some weight of feeling."