Dirty Beaches - Drifters/Love is the Devil
A beguiling, globe-trotting, genre-spanning lo-fi album from Alex Zhang Hungtai
Alex Zhang Hungtai’s peripatetic lifestyle has taken him from Taiwan to Canada and then around the globe, and his lo-fi compositions as Dirty Beaches have a sense of dislocation that is both engaging and unnerving. There is no real sense of place in this latest opus, a double LP that varies in quality and is mesmerising in parts, but there is a real sense of self and of the artist.
Hungtai’s recordings – which channel everything from brittle krautrock and pared-down punk funk to scuzzy ambient and frayed contemporary classical – have a dilapidated grandeur and a lonely fragility. The essence of a modern nomadic one-man band, Hungtai distils myriad influences, introspections and emotions into a singular sonic vision. We all have our own foibles and eccentricities, Hungtai just happens to put them on record.
To say this album has no sense of place may sound odd as it namechecks many of the locations Hungtai was clearly inspired by during his life on the road for the past two years. But while there’s a leitmotif of travelogues (Lisbon, Berlin, the Danube and Belgrade are all referenced in song titles), the greater journey undertaken is Hungtai’s exploration of music’s outer realms. This is a disparate collection of recordings and the only constant is the no-fi aesthetic which gives the album that intimate, almost claustrophobic appeal, notably with the relatively swaggering bassline of ‘Night Walk’, over which Hungtai’s echo chamber croon loiters like Banquo’s ghost.
There is something haunted about much of the album: the eerie kosmische of ‘Belgrade’, atrophied pop of ‘Elli’, and brooding new wave epic of ‘Mirage Hall’. The second half’s descent into solemn compositional experimentation has moments of beauty and retains the album’s crumbling artfulness, but there comes a point when you can only take so much foreboding. That said, what is beguiling about Dirty Beaches is the sense of closeness you get to the artist, and this collection brings you that, for better and for worse.