Dirty Beaches - Drifters / Love Is the Devil [Zoo Music - 2013]Alex Zhang Hungtai (b. September 4, 1980, Taipei), known by his stage name Dirty Beaches, is a Taiwanese-born Canadian musician based in Montreal, Quebec who started off as a one-man band in 2005. His previous releases include music ranging from drone instrumentals to film scores, and mutated American music like blues, rockabilly, soul, R&B and hip hop, often changed to a point of unrecognizability.
Hungtai’s latest album, ‘Drifters / Love Is the Devil’, is a rambling double-album that apparently records his life on the road over the past two years, passing through Berlin, Belgrade, Paris, and other cities whilst reflecting passing emotions.
Recorded in late 2012, the album is split into two parts, one vocal and one instrumental, tightly woven together thematically as one conceptual piece. The music within is a echo of the reality experienced of travels both off the outside world in which the artist explores the nightlife of bright neon temptations and hedonistic values, and that of the inner world, one of remorse and lovelorn tragedies.
These contrasting moods are reflected in the music but never really hit a true peak. The recording itself is very lo-fi (it even seems to be in mono!) with the vocals always submerged in the mix and very hard to make out. The instrumentation seems to consist of mainly eighties synthesizers which here just sound dated rather than recreating something of the past and bringing out its idiosyncrasies as we have seen with groups like Belbury Poly and related artists.
The album begins quite promisingly with ‘Night Walk’ which opens with a bass groove that sounds like it was lifted from a sixties sleazy euro trash beat movie. ‘I Dream in Neon’ follows and here again we have primitive synths and drum machine over which the vocals are low key and indefinable.
Third track ‘Belgrade’ comes over as more euro sleaze with staccato synth beats and weird sounding synth horn sounds. It’s all very eighties, like early Human League or the Suicide sounding track ‘Elli’, before the album seems to turn morose and depressing. The remaining tracks all seem to fall into the same genre of weird sounding sax sounds over lonely pianos, drones and whistles. I found these hard to listen to as they created an atmosphere of depression which wasn’t much fun.
In summary, I found this album to be poorly recorded, lacking in direction and at times downright miserable.Dave Biddulph