Alex Zhang Hungtai sounds like a broken man. Maybe he’s been betrayed one too many times. Maybe he sits in the dark a lot. “Greyhound at Night”, “Alone at the Danube River” — even the song titles reflect solitude. His lyrics are often unintelligible, obscured by a haze of tape hiss and reverb.
On Drifters/Love is the Devil — a double album from his lo-fi solo project, Dirty Beaches — Hungtai continues to hide in cavernous distortion, both for pop songs and ambient pieces. Drifters collects the former and Love is the Devil the latter, a double album in which each half feels entirely distinct.
A pattering drum machine keeps a simple beat throughout Drifters. Often, this triggers Hungtai’s glam mode. His sloppy baritone on opener “Night Walk” tugs endearingly as he struts and yelps on the mic, only to have the track skewered by background noise experiments.
And Hungtai clearly loves those experiments. He cranks his guitars and keyboards through delay pedals to achieve those drone-y sounds, sprinkling in the occasional field recording or sound bite. Most of these sound collages are contained on Love is the Devil, a melancholic exercise in atmospherics. “Greyhound at Night” sounds like a ‘40s orchestra playing out of tune, and others (the title track and “I Don’t Know…”) evoke movie scores from that same era.
More than a double album, Drifters/Love is the Devil is a pair of poignant records. Hungtai’s ideas swing rapidly from beautiful to chaotic to completely atonal. He projects his emotional state directly onto his four-track in two equally powerful methods. It sounds intensely personal because it is — these are the kind of songs people record for themselves. Fortunately, Hungtai has let us into his world, no matter what darkness we might find there.
Essential Tracks: “I Dream in Neon”, “Greyhound at Night”