Thursday, July 07, 2011


Dirty Beaches is the alias of Alex Zhang Hungtai, born in Taiwan, resident in Vancouver and with a well-stamped passport between. Despite his intercontinental globe-hopping, Dirty Beaches influences seem highly specific: splicing the dark synth no-wave of New York’s Suicide with some fifties rock ‘n’ roll posturing, and locating it all in the current US no-fi scene. Following earlier split single releases, the San Diego label Zoo Music released the first single from “Badlands” last July with the album following in March 2011. This summer via a West Coast-East London partnership between Zoo Music and Italian Beach Babes, “Badlands” is only now getting a limited UK vinyl release.

The album starts with the minimalist nightmare grind of ‘Speedway King’: dislocated Presley-like yelps and phrases over industrial machinery noise, it’s more claustrophobic ‘Lady In The Radiator Song’ weird than “Roustabout” cinemascope swagger. The next two tracks provide more identifiable rock ‘n’ roll hooks: an insistent Peter Gunn bass line on ‘Horses’ , more of those lip-curling yelps over tinny drum-machine rhythms for “Sweet 17” but also whole heaps of sinister on both. The repeated anguished cries of “sweet seventeen” suggest more disturbing intentions that taking a high-school date to the prom. A compressed mosquito-buzz rhythm and tense crooning power the longest track on the album ‘A Hundred Highways’ but both are savagely interrupted by flashes of twanging guitar and sudden, explosive noise (falling masonry? Dropped pianos? A bell-tower being demolished?)

After these brutal assaults both ‘True Blue’ and ‘Lord Knows Best’ ease into a (relatively) softer gear, all Roy Orbison romantic crooner mode including spoken word interlude (“I just want you to know / that my heart will always be true”) and falsetto harmonies for the former and a gentle mirror-ball dance swing for the latter. Finishing the record are two instrumentals, bastard off-spring of Bowie’s “Low” album. ‘Black Nylon’ is a sleazy synthesizer belly-crawl through oppressive, dark beats; ‘Hotel’ is a sparse, sleep-deprived drift full of ominous chimes. It’s a curiously low-key fade-to-black finale to an album that has excelled in spooky provocations and controlled visceral assault.

The album title may come from a Terrence Malick movie but a better cinematic reference point is David Lynch. Lynch is an over-used comparison for music that combines the macabre, the innocent and the surreal but it really does fit the bill perfectly for Dirty Beaches. “Badlands” is a sonic distillation of the snakeskin-clad rebellion of "Wild at Heart", the shadowy malevolence of "Eraserhead" and the twisted subversion of Bobby Vinton romance in "Blue Velvet".

At 22 minutes long, it could be argued that Hungtai has yet to prove himself over a full album but there is a purity to keeping it short and (not-so) sweet that works for this record. And you don’t want to spend too long its dark embrace.

There may be a wider UK release later this year but for the moment there are only 500 vinyl copies for the whole of UK and Europe via Italian Beach Babes (or possibly your local indie record shop). And this limited release coincides with Dirty Beaches first UK and Europe dates including Manchester on 16 July (supporting Wu Lyf as part of the Manchester International Festival) and a headline show at The Victoria, Dalston on 19 July.

Horses - Dirty Beaches by absentminded

Dirty Beaches Badlands [BUY]

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