Saturday, May 14, 2011

Dirty Beaches: Badlands

     Alex Zhang Hungtai, a Taiwanese moved to Canada, is the one man behind Dirty Beaches, whose sound feels as though it too has moved and which indisputably moved me.  The essence of this album is one of reminiscence and nostalgia, retaining the same passion and lo-fi sincerity that reminds me a lot of Joy Division. Rather than simply revive old sounds though, this album is floating through a sea of fuzzy,  alienating, experimentation that makes me wonder why I never discovered and listened to this record before.
     The second track, 'Horses', is the most Joy Division-esque on the album for me, from the quick but muffled drums seen on the likes of 'She's Lost Control' to the vocals that sound very much like that of Ian Curtis, though perhaps slightly higher in pitch. Alex has his mouth almost over the microphone a lot of the time and sings as though he's out of breath, serving to make his performance passionate and heart-felt, an element missed in a lot of today's music. You can almost feel as though Alex has lost control himself at some points, with his signature high pitched note thrown in from time to time. His voice doesn't get aggressive though, but rather emotional about what he's singing, which I enjoyed.
     'Sweet 17', the track directly after 'Horses' is my favourite on the album, with more quick drums and muffled vocals. As the song progresses however, there are parts where Dirty Beaches throws all lyrics out of the window in a flurry of passion and resorts to emotionally-charged notes, devoid of words. These sections are highlighted in the notes that sound as though Alex's voice has broken, but in a good way. The emotion falling from his lips is too much to keep refrained, and so they reveal themselves as these high sounds. The climactic ending is the perfect finish to a near-perfect song.
     'True Blue' is a calmer track, but one that is still very surreal, swamped in reverb and broken by soothing melodies. After this, and as the album drew to a conclusion, I felt as though the sounds had become fainter, and words less and less apparent, especially in the last two songs, which were the ones most obviously experimented on. 'Black Nylon', the penultimate song, held an almost apocalyptic atmosphere, as the listener is led up to be executed. Thoughts of what could have been flood your mind and a city broken and ruined comes into light. For the first time, no words are sang, almost in respect for your dishonour. The track fades out in the end, which didn't feel to me like a proper ending, but didn't completely cast the track or the album into shadow.
     As a conclusion, the lyrics on many of the songs feel repetitive, but the variety in tone and the texture to the voice makes this a very small complaint. An album of reminiscence, this is one record that I'll definitely be returning to. Fans of Joy Division will love this, I'm sure, as well as anyone who appreciates music that holds a certain emotional gun to your heart. Sit down, listen to this, and remember. A fantastic record, Dirty Beaches' Badlands is a gripping eight track masterpiece and one I can't recommend enough.