Sound — 9
On Alex Zhang Hungtai's fifth studio album under moniker Dirty Beaches, lo-fi meets rockabilly for a double date with the darker side of ambient and electronica. The first half, "Drifters," finds Hungtai slinging as much action at his listener as possible, whereas "Love is the Devil" shows a flare for the darker side of ambient music, evocative of Lustmord or early Mouse On Mars. Opener "Night Walk" feels like the rockabilly of the 1950s viewed through the guise of 1990s lo-fi. First disc "Drifters"'s "I Dream Of Neon" feels like the amorphous soup of a melted down garage rock band bathed in fluorescent lights, but "Elli" on the same disc flirts with electronica that finds a median somewhere between Aphex Twin and Daft Punk. Highlights from the second disc include the monolithic "Mirage Hall," which takes its listener through a haunting drum loop before building into a fuzz-box that would make Boris proud. Additionally, the minimalist "I Don't Know How to Find My Way Back to You" conjures the Stars Of The Lid's "Tippy's Demise" in a few brief minutes, dazzling the listener while concurrently tugging at their heartstrings.
Lyrics — 8
Fans of Huntai have often referred to him as the next Elvis. The comparison, while bold, is certainly apt, and certainly apparent. Disc one showcases a man toying with his lower baritone registry while yowling and yelping as clean guitars push him along. "Casino Lisboa" finds Huntai center-stage using his voice to drive a soup of funk bass and world-influenced drums. Unlike his previous effort, "Badlands," there is no easily traceable pattern. Dynamic shifts feel spastic, yet pleasantly surprising. The second CD, "Love is the Devil," is focused less on Huntai as a vocalist, but as a composer. "Alone at the Danube River" shows the man splicing Ben Chasney and Godspeed You! Black Emperor's Efrim Menuck's guitar chops together for a forlorn, reverb-drenched search of the soul right before synthesizers come in to overtake his introspective guitar.
Overall Impression — 8
Over seventy minutes of difficult music is presented for Dirty Beaches's listener to digest. Twists and turns abound, but at the core is a man who truly believes love is the devil. Whether he is channeling his voice like a postmodern Elvis Presley or noodling on his Stratocaster into the void of his own mind, the most heart-wrenching tracks that are guaranteed to stick with the listener appear on the second disc. His voice provides a drone for the listeners to drift away into on "Like the Ocean We Part" over a simple fingerpicked guitar bit. However, the closer, "Berlin," provides the album's terminal melancholy. A slow paced drone gradually filters more instruments into the mix until a fuzzy horn section is heard producing a call and response. By no means an easy work to get into, Huntai's 2013 double-album is most certainly rich in rewards for those that chose to take the journey.