Dirty Beaches - Badlands

by Steve Reynolds Rating:8 Release Date:2011-03-28

Dirty Beaches is the brainchild of Alex Zhang Hungtai and he's literally a one-man band on this his debut Badlands. Feasting us from the start with 'Speedway King', it's his love of scratchy samples and lo-fi recordings which sets the tone for the eight tracks on show here. He blends this together with a voice that melds the squall and screech of Alan Vega (Suicide) with the croon of Mr Elvis Presley.

Hungtai's vocal on 'Horses' apes Presley in such a way that those long lost stories about the King still being alive in another life-form could almost be true. He even has the balls to mimic the noise of a horse in-between his yelping delivery drawl. 'Sweet 17' brings the sound of The Dum Dum Girls with an almost indecipherable vocal going head-to-head with a distinctly indolent drum beat. 'A Hundred Highways' ups the anti with a mash of fuzz and Hungtai sounding like he's singing into a bucket. It works perfectly and is more than a show of hands for positive minimalism.

Hungtai doesn't suffer for his art and, in fact, his aesthetic is very much on its own as his downbeat delivery wallows in the freedom which he unleashes on Badlands. It's a brave album and without the constraints of any band members he merely revels in his own creativity. 'True Blue' stinks of dirty blues composed with a host of Phil Spector references. The vocal is incoherent but compliments the track perfectly. 'Black Nylon' and 'Hotel' are mere ambient fillers which tail off without bringing anything to the party. For me, they're merely cast-offs destined for the cutting room floor which is where they should have stayed. It's a disappointing finale and smacks of laziness on the part of Hungtai as the preceding six tracks have the making of being something special and important.

If he can eradicate elements of his slacker disposition and focus on the many plus points crammed into less than 30 minutes on this album then he could have a place in our hearts.

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