Alex Zhang Hungtai’s latest release as Dirty Beaches, double album Drifters/Love is the Devil, is an odd duck even by left-leaning independent musician standards. His image makeover on the latest effort recalls the rockabilly era, and some of the songs (such as ‘I Dream in Neon’) have bluesy riffs and vocal accentuation that would remind you of that too. Had they not been filtered with out-of-this-dimension Lynchian barroom smokes that is, which is very much like his previous album Badlands.
Come to the other half of the LP though, Love is the Devil, Hungtai switches gear to a mostly instrumental sound that is cinematically low key. The title track is elegiac in its droning synths and guitar sketches; whereas Drifters is the paean to neon-lit nightlife, this half of the record is a slow descent out of the city. We’re tempted to say it’s the better half, but the two are almost completely different from one another in mood and approach.
The vocals, usually in narcotical baritone, adds to Drifters pained anguish, especially so on ‘Aurevoir mon visage’ where Hungtai sings (talks, rather) in an indistinct language (it’s probably French). The drum loop is almost tribal, and the diegetic background noise makes us feel like we’re eavesdropping a foreigner’s argument at an illegal town in our own neon-lit city. It’s the soundtrack to the city that owes itself more to real life than noir.
LISTEN TO: ‘Love is the Devil’
IF YOU LIKE THIS YOU’LL DIG: Sudarshan