June 2, 2011

DIRTY BEACHES - "Badlands" LP (Zoo) 2011

  Taiwanese born Alex Zhang Hungtai, aka: Dirty Beaches, delivers his first proper full length, a wildly addictive concoction of influences, entitled Badlands.Forget all that you know of Dirty Beaches' previous work.Gone are the days of subtle drones, minimal synths and whispered vocals of his past releases.Hungtai has cleverly taken a few tabs of Elvis Presley's stylish swagger and broken hearted-balladry, crushed it up with a heavy dose of Suicide's dark and minimal muscle, and ground it up into a fine golden powder, he calls Badlands.A perfect mix of classic rockabilly, garage fuzziness, and lo-fi pop, with nods to minimalist repetition and psych haziness.This record is filled to the brim with everything and nothing you've heard before.The first thing you will notice is the totally revamped instrumentation and sogwriting approach.Cavernous electric and acoustic guitars rip through a handful of styles, with nods to 60's psych, surf, and classic garage rock riffing.They bounce and echo above primitive, and somewhat robotic drumming, with steady-she-goes electric bass lines, finding a place somewhere in between.This can definitely be tagged as "lo-fi", or "mid-fi" rather, with the natural vibrations of anything "low end" being almost completely removed.Yet, the songs remain deep and full bodied, and there's little to no studio polishing here.Huntai's voice has blossomed quite a bit from his once breathy, Alan Vega-style mumbling, into a melodic and soulful new instrument.His newfound range is pretty impressive, and gives his music an entirely new dynamic.Not to say that Badlands won't remind you of Suicide at times, it certainly will, as well as a few more of your favorite genre-benders.But, it's clear that Hungtai is not only heading in his own direction with Dirty Beaches, but forming his own path to get there.
  The most obvious example of his recent "upgrade", is "Lord Knows Best".It's the slowest and most pleasant track you'll find on this record, and also the most heartfelt and honest song of the bunch.It's "Earth Angel" style balladry grabs hold of you right from the start.There's a prominent ragtime-y piano loop that holds it all together tightly, as the soothing vocal harmonies begin to rise up in the background, filling in the empty spaces.Hungtai's deep and affectionate voice begins to fill the room like a dense fog, with lines like "You know well that I don't give a damn 'bout anything, but you...oh, yes you do", and "lord knows best that i don't give a damn, about anyone, but you..oh yes he does".A rather thoughtful piece of music to balance out the dark, eerie swagger that fills up most of Badlands' corners.Like I said, it's nothing you haven't heard before, and yet still comes off as fresh and original.The bare-boned charm and painfully raw vibe of this album make it worthy of repeat listening.Hats off to you, Dirty Beaches.

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