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Drifters / Love Is the Devil

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Album Review

Along with numerous singles and limited-edition releases, Dirty Beaches' Alex Zhang Hungtai released the score to the documentary Water Park between two of his more widely released albums, Badlands and Drifters/Love Is the Devil. Given his flair and fondness for atmosphere, it's no surprise that Hungtai branched out into film music, nor is it a surprise that this filmic feel also permeates Drifters/Love Is the Devil. A generous 75-minute double album, the set blends Dirty Beaches' growing ambitions with the project's spooky, lo-fi rock roots. Of the two albums, Drifters is more like what listeners have come to expect from Hungtai's music; songs like "Night Walk" sound more like Suicide traveled back in time to write music for a '50s B-movie than ever. Tracks such as "I Dream in Neon," where the vocals melt into a gritty fuzz bass, or the improbable but fascinating blends of exotica and industrial in "Casino Lisboa" and "Au Revoir Mon Visage," reaffirm that Hungtai has a real gift for conveying several different moods within the same blurry sounds as they slide from sleazy to desperate to poignant. Yet even among these songs there are hints of Dirty Beaches' growing experimental side, particularly on "Elli," one of Hungtai's sparest, most haunting moments yet, and the ten-minute "Mirage Hall," which takes his hypnotic grooves and drones to hallucinatory lengths. Meanwhile, Love Is the Devil provides a more ambient yin to Drifters' often-menacing yang (though the entire set could have been called Drifters and it would have fit). The second half of this set is not unlike a darker version of the Water Park music, especially on the expansive guitar piece "Alone at the Danube River," which shares a moody, transporting feel with that score. There's still plenty of Dirty Beaches' distinctive grit, which helps ground the more ethereal textures and tones he plays with on "Greyhound at Night," which, with its airy trumpet and guitar, lies in some floaty space between jazz, indie, and post-rock. At times, Love Is the Devil hints that the more ambient elements Hungtai's music might work better on the side than as the main focus, particularly when more structured songs such as "Like the Ocean We Part" work so well. Still, Drifters/Love Is the Devil spans nearly every sound in Dirty Beaches' musical spectrum to make another strongly evocative album in Hungtai's body of work.

Biography

Formed: Taiwan

Genre: Alternative

Years Active: '00s, '10s

The project of Alex Zhang Hungtai, Dirty Beaches' spanned low-slung, lo-fi, post-rockabilly to ambient instrumentals. Born in Taiwan, Hungtai moved to Canada at an early age. Starting in 2005, he released a slew of albums, EPs, and cassettes on labels such as Night People and Fixture Records. Hungtai's music is equally familiar-sounding and surreal, mixing a croon worthy of Elvis or Roy Orbison with Suicide-like drum machines and a fondness for found sounds and hypnotic loops. He moved to Zoo Records...
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Drifters / Love Is the Devil, Dirty Beaches
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