Dirty Beaches - Drifters / Love Is the Devil - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Dirty Beaches - Drifters / Love Is the Devil

by Andy Brown Rating:9 Release Date:2013-05-27

Dirty Beaches is the one-man labour-of-love of Taiwanese-born, Canadian-based musician Alex Zhang Hungtai. Drifters/Love is the Devil is Hungtai's double-album follow up to 2010's brooding Badlands LP and last year's well-received soundtrack EP, Water Park. For the uninitiated, Mr Beaches draws much of his sound from the repetitive, doom-ridden grooves of late-70s synth-punk pioneers Suicide. Yet as big a shadow as Alan Vega casts over Dirty Beaches' core aesthetic, Hungtai remains a singularly talented and consistently engaging musician.

Drifters draws on the rockabilly/Elvis-gone-mad undertones of Badlands and pulls them in a more overtly electronic direction. The music takes on a kind of industrial-pop swagger and tracks like the aptly-titled set opener 'Night Walk' are as exciting as anything in Hungtai's back-catalogue. 'I Dream in Neon' has the sleazy, blues-strut of The Kills at their finest. Yet where VV and Hotel deal in bold, deceptively simplistic arrangements, Hungtai swathes everything he does in a murky, broken-synth gloom.

It's this approach which adds a certain level of intrigue and mystery to everything Hungtai does. Nothing is spelt out, but repeat listens reveal a complicated and multi-layered world of sound, albeit one still firmly grounded in rock 'n' roll. The highlight of these first eight tracks comes with the propulsive and filthy, groove-led 'Casino Lisboa'. It's here that Hungtai shakes and howls like the bastard spawn of Jon Spencer and Nick Cave, under layers of lo-fi fuzz and discordance.

Love is the Devil begins with the ambient, jazz-flecked 'Greyhound at Night' and retains a graceful and quietly brooding tone throughout its eight tracks. It's a completely different record; resigned and melancholic melodies replacing Drifters damaged rock 'n' roll swagger. It's a subtle, spectral record and one which embraces a near modern-classical approach to ambient electronica. There's plenty of heart under all the broken synth sounds and a lingering sadness to tracks like 'I Don't Know How to Find My Way Back to You'. Love is the Devil sticks in your mind like half-forgotten, sentimental melodies and faded photographs.

Overall, it's an ambitious record of two halves that sees Dirty Beaches steady evolution rather than any drastic aesthetic overhaul. While Drifters and Love is the Devil are very different records, there isn't a whole lot of variation within each respective album. Songs and rhythms sound familiar and there are no huge leaps of imagination from track-to-track.

However, this acts as a cohesive influence on the two records; further defining and refining Hungtai's vision. The more you listen, the more it all makes perfect sense. Drifters/Love is the Devil is a challenging yet warm ear-worm of a record and a multi-layered sonic delight.

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