What has happened in Alex Zhang Hungtai’s life to produce an album so steeped in twisted darkness and distinct loneliness? The double LP.Drifters/Love is the Devil, is the most eccentric and experimental album that Dirty Beaches have brought us to date, following the heavily sample based rock and roll album ‘Badlands’ in 2011. The man behind this bold lo-fi melancholia is Taiwanese but raised in Montreal, where the album was recorded. This is not at all surprising given the abundance of experimental and alternative music coming from that city of late. Maybe they are putting something in the water?
So, the first (and there are many) notably interesting part of this release is that it comes in two parts. ‘Drifters’ is the opening and more user-friendly part of the double album. The first track, ‘Night Walk’ is full of edge and gritty backstreet sounds. There is a distinct feeling that you are about to enter into a whole new realm of musical intrigue from the get go. The distorted and fuzzy vocals of Hungtai hypnotise you, as they echo in your head long after you have finished listening. A couple of songs later and ‘Casino Lisboa’ really sinks its teeth in, with divinely bold bass lines. To put it simply, Drifters is a painfully cool piece of work. However there is some emphasis on the word painfully here, as he seems a broken man, focusing his seemingly dark creativity on his most ground breaking and interesting piece of work. Yes, ‘Drifters’ is cool and edgy but there is no escaping the eerie undertones.
By the time you reach ‘Landscapes in the Mist’, the last song on Drifters, you are well and truly stepping through the looking glass. Say goodbye to recognisable song structure and understandable lyrics. They don’t exist here any longer. In fact, the majority of the songs on the ‘Love is the Devil’ part of the double album are instrumental. After listening to ‘Woman’ for the first time the initial reaction was simply “What the hell did I just listen to?” but kudos to the man for producing something so different to anything I’ve ever heard before, even if at times I didn’t quite understand it. ‘Drifters’ definitely makes more sense as an album, if that is in fact what you are after, and I don’t think ‘Love is the Devil’ could stand-alone without it.
This man is wonderfully troubled. His ability to create an atmosphere and paint a picture in your mind through his distorted musical creations is admirable. I feel sympathy for Alex Zhang Hungtai, who depicts evident feelings of dissatisfaction, even with the album title ‘Drifters/Love is the Devil’. But on the other hand, I’m grateful that perhaps one heartbreak too many threw him into this ominous world of the bizarre and the beautiful. While he deals with his grim cynicism, we are left to pick up the incredibly unique pieces in the form of this fearlessly sinister double album. Not a bad deal for us really, is it? Sorry, Alex.