Dirty Beaches



by danielsfrebirth USER (27 Reviews)
June 19th, 2011 | 9 replies

Release Date: 2011 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Alex Zhang Hungtai will run you off the speedway and watch you writhe in flames in the abyss below

I haven’t told a lot of people this little factoid about myself due to my teenage desire to preserve my outlying masculinity, but I hate listening to people suffer. Even in films, I get shivers whenever I hear someone scream in agony. On the other hand, I could stomach the most unflinchingly graphic film in the world, something that makes Men Behind the Sun look like Baby Einstein, so long as the sound was off. In fact, I sometimes kill time by watching extremely gory YouTube clips on mute and imagining the sound. But instead of anything that makes sense, phantom music generally comes into my mind, mental soundwaves from an untapped, psychotic part of my brain. And it sounds a hell of a lot like Dirty Beaches.

Alex Zhang Hungtai, the Taiwanese-Canadian musician behind demented rockabilly act Dirty Beaches, poses a terrifying figure. Half the time, he sounds like a demented Romeo who was either already insane or driven to madness by his love. On “Sweet 17,” Hungtai takes on the classic role of predatory lover, yelping and panting at a teenage target over a rolling rock n’ roll rhythm. On the other hand, we have the stunning “Lord Knows Best,” in which Hungtai takes a gentle piano vamp and repeats it over and over again with few changes, moaning demonically all the while, until it begins to deteriorate in the mind’s ear. All seems to be going well, but at the same time we practically hear our protagonist’s mind falling apart.

But this is the nice side of Hungtai. In songs like “Speedway King” and “A Hundred Highways,” the guy gets even darker. “Speedway King” is one of the most uncomfortable pop songs I’ve ever heard. The vocals might fit in more smoothly with a more fast-paced rockabilly song, but instead, his stuttering howl is set against a backdrop of ponderous slaveship drums and carnivorous, distorted guitar. Nothing seems to be in place, but as that one guitar chord rolls on and on, everything starts to make relative sense. As soon as that happens, it’s Hungtai’s turn to move in and feast on your unsuspecting soul. “A Hundred Highways” is a relatively easygoing groove brilliantly ruined by out-of-key guitar stabs that perpetually threaten to swallow everything else. It’s almost reminiscent of Xiu Xiu in the way the different elements of the song do battle with each other and catch you squarely in the crossfire.

Yet for all its darkness and gloom, the most interesting thing about this album is simply the idea of a lo-fi, experimental, hipster-friendly ‘50s-style rockabilly artist in this particular point in musical history. Nostalgia is one of the overarching feelings driving music, both underground and mainstream, at the moment–but it’s mostly nostalgia for the Eighties and Nineties, times that do not have particularly utopian reputations. On the other hand, we have the 1950s, which (whether deservedly or not) enjoys a repuation as a sort of golden age for music, an era of record stores and Little Richard, of jukeboxes and Jerry Lee Lewis, of Chevy Impalas and drive-thru diners. Hungtai obviously has a deep love for this particular era (and bands influenced by that era, such as the Cramps and Suicide, the two artists to whom Dirty Beaches is most often compared), and like many of the chillwave artists attempting to conjure a ghostly memory of the ‘80s, Hungtai is deeply interested in the darker side of the rock n’ roll dreamtime of lore.

Even his name, which certainly brings to mind artists in the vein of Beach Fossils and Best Coast, shows this–it’s a wink and a nod to other nostalgia-minded artists, but at the same time, it brings to mind impurity, spoiled beauty, and a difference of interest. When you see a dirty beach, your reaction would most likely be to either leave or find a relatively clean spot. But there are no unsoiled places on Badlands, and the best you can do is find the beauty in what there is to see.

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user ratings (85)
other reviews of this album
conradtao EMERITUS (3.5)
Dirty Beaches' debut possesses a very fluid sense of time and place, and it's all the better for it....

chambered89 (4)

Comments:Add a Comment 
June 19th 2011


"True Blue" is an absolutely gorgeous song

June 30th 2011


Nice review dude. I still haven't heard this enough to rate it but it's pretty great.

August 19th 2011


Album Rating: 4.0

way good

September 12th 2011


Album Rating: 4.0

i was told to discuss badlands so here i am to discuss

September 12th 2011


Album Rating: 4.0

i like on true blue when ehs all like aaaaahwwooaaaawoaa.....true blue

September 12th 2011


good talk man

September 12th 2011


Album Rating: 4.0

this danielsfrebirth is m.i.a. he has missed out on the big discussion owell his own fault

September 22nd 2011


I have to check this out. Really like the last two lines in this review.

December 1st 2011


I love rockabilly but the production on this pisses me off and wastes a good album. God I fucking hate lo-fi production.

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