Dirty Beaches


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Badlands (2011), 6.5/10
Drifters (2013), 7/10
Love Is The Devil (2013), 6/10
Stateless (2014), 6/10
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Dirty Beaches, the project of Taiwanese-born Montreal-based singer-songwriter and saxophonist Hungtai "Alex" Zhang, debuted with a series of instrumental cassettes like Old Blood (2007), Chess Music (2007), Seaside (2008), Horror (2008), Bird (2009), Dirty Beaches (2009), and Night City (2010).

His first real album, Badlands (2011), which was also his first major recording with vocals, sounds like an extended tribute to the 1950s and 1960s. A Hundred Highways is basically a remix of Peggy March's I Will Follow Him (1963), True Blue borrows from the Ronettes' Keep On Dancing (1963), and Lord Knows Best is a lo-fi re-recording of Francoise Hardy's romantic ballad Voila' (1967). But Horses bridges the 1960s' rhythm of the Link Wray's Mustang with the new-wave threnody of Suicide, and Sweet 17 is even closer to the macabre rockabilly of Suicide.

From imitation Zhang moved rapidly on to innovation. The double album Drifters/ Love Is The Devil (2013) restarts from Suicide's ghostly psychobilly (Night Walk, Casino Lisboa) but introduces honky-tonking steps (I Dream in Neon) and disco beats (the ten-minute Mirage Hall). The cryptic instrumentals tell a story of their own, both the sinister Belgrade and the abstract, saxophone-driven Landscapes in the Mist. This first half is wrapped in a nocturnal, expressionistic atmosphere. Gone is the Roy Orbison-ian passion for crooning ballads.
The second half, Love Is The Devil (2013), consists of lo-fi droning ambient music (Greyhound at Night and especially the seven-minute Berlin), a nostalgic neoclassical adagio (Love Is the Devil), a dadaistic electronic vignette (Woman), a seven-minute solo of dissonant guitar (Alone at the Danube River). This second half sounds a bit amateurish and indulgent.

After the soundtrack for a documentary, Water Park (2013), that uses electronic keyboards and electric guitar, the all-instrumental Stateless (2014), recorded in Italy and Portugal, is significantly different because it contains four lengthy compositions that seem to link back with early ambient music of the 1970s (Brian Eno, Gavin Bryars, Harold Budd), particularly Stateless (11:22). On the other hand, the viola-driven Time Washes Away Everything (14:55) has the austere quality of Pauline Oliveros's "deep listening" music.

Dirty Beaches also released several singles: Golden Desert Sun (2010), True Blue (2010), No Fun (2011), Lone Runner (2011), that sounds like an industrial version of the Doors, Tarlabasi (2012), Dune Walker (2012), Elizabeth's Theme (2012), etc.

Dirty Beaches was shelved after the EPs Hotel (2014), that contains four neoclassical piano ballads, and Neon Gods of Lost Youth (2014), that contains leftovers from Badlands.

He then released the instrumental piano album Knave Of Hearts (2016) and the processed-saxophone album Divine Weight (2018) as Alex Zhang Hungtai. Ancora (2016) and Eight Black Horses Crown Snake (2018) document collaborations with organist David Maranha and drummer Gabriel Ferrandini on which Zhang played saxophone. Young Gods Run Free (2020) is a digital audio collage that consists of "phone voice memo recordings chopped up and spliced together". The jazztronica album Longone (2020) was a collaboration with Kuo-hung Tseng of Taiwan's jazz sextet Sunset Rollercoaster.

Zhang was also active as Last Lizard and formed the drone trio Love Theme.

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