When Suicide performed their first concert in East-Side New York, they were booed off stage for their proto-punk attempts.Their simple forward-thinking combination of synthesizers and drum machines could be considered too much to handle for the no-wave crowd of the time. Ironically, the band’s legacy is still found today in top album lists and other artist’s music. I would have done anything to witness the first groundbreaking act, but luckily today musicians like Dirty Beaches have taken the opportunity to fill the hole.
Dirty Beaches is Alex Zhang Hungtai, who’s Montreal based stage name garnered quite the critical acclaim with the 2011 album, Badlands. The lo-fi release was almost polarizing to the general public, although it was labelled as a “Experimental-Rockabily” album. Now Badlands was easily in my top list for 2011, and the only knock I had on it was it’s length. It’s a very condensed form of what Hungtai plans to do with this wonderful act, and the 27 minute debut was not enough for me.
Pleasing me in every way, Hungtai has released the follow-up to the magnificent album with a double LP titled, Drifters / Love Is The Devil. To give a quick overview of the two remarkably different sides, Drifters is a lot like Badlands with the drum machine and reverb influences, while Love Is The Devil is an all instrumental guitar and keyboard work that screams ‘night time in an abandoned city’. What captivated me to listen to this album over and over is how quickly I connected emotionally. It wasn’t that I was drawn to one event, but that I was drawn to a series of thoughts while listening. The future, careers, home, who am I? why am I here? what am I? All of this flooded into my head while Hungtai’s eerie but beautiful loops.
Drifters begins quite normal, with “Nightwalk” setting a good tone for accessibly, but once “Aurevior Mon Visage” drives in, I realized that Dirty Beaches wasn’t like other experimental acts. The loops are so simple, but so polarizing. This album onward is the perfect soundtrack for Half-Life 2. It’s oddly catchy hooks on tracks like “Mirage Hall” are a guilty pleasure for a song that feels like Hungtai went to hell and back to record it. It’s 9 minute soundscape transforms into the ultimate form of self-destruction. Even coming up with words to describe this song is difficult. Hungtai’s echoed yelling only adds to the contrast of sound.
After the ride that Drifters is, I took another turn on the beautiful sadness of Love Is The Devil. I’d Normally review double albums together, but these two albums are extremely divided in sound. Opening with the freakishly emotional “Greyhound At Night”, I was caught in limbo for the rest of the album. It flew by, with only specks of memory still in my brain. It vanished immediately. Not that it was not memorable, because it was fucking super memorable. It was that this album is an experience. I’m not talking about a Warhol Factory experience where your insides are mush the next morning, but an experience of inner-peace. The sound of this album is a mixture of ambiance and no-wave. There was no yelling, there was no driving drum beat, and the only comparison to a semi-popular music piece is “Motion Picture Soundtrack” off of Radiohead’s brilliant Kid A.
Songs like, “This Is Not My City” add to the effect of loneliness and isolation, while still containing that hope beneath the surface. It’s like being in a hazy apartment building looking out the window onto a busy street corner, questioning what the meaning is to all of this. ‘This’ can be anything, that’s the beauty of this album. What ‘this’ means in that analogy is up to you. Hitting the climax at “I Don’t Know How To Find My Way Back To You”, Hungtai takes a page out of Arvo Part’s modern composition book with the gripping orchestration. It’s droning, and perfectly level. The final note is that this half of the album was recorded in an empty Berlin recording studio after closing. I get the feeling of this throughout my entire listen. It’s that sound that’s so captivating that I can’t get enough of.
When I heard Dirty Beaches’ Badlands I felt like I was given the short end of the stick by only hearing a snippet into Hungtai’s mind. Now with Drifters / Love Is The Devil clocking in at 75 minutes together, I still feel like I’m left with not enough. I’ve come to the conclusion that truly is the beauty of the album. The LP’s control emotion better than any album I’ve heard this year (So long Trouble Will Find Me!), although I still know Dirty Beaches are in the climb of their career. Both albums are brilliant, and even with their contrasting sound, they fit like a puzzle piece together.
Listen to the almost 10 minute epic off of Drifters:
This song is from Love Is The Devil: