Key Tracks: Drifters: “Belgrade,” “Mirage Hall”
Love is the Devil: “Alone at the Danube River,” “Like the Ocean We Part”
“Drifters/Love is the Devil” is, distinctly, a double album. In a digital age, double albums have become a rarity. These two albums, however, are not attempting to open up to today’s electronic world. Album one, “Drifters” is reminiscent of a troubled past, with a gloomy 80’s sound being it’s only clear influence. “Love is the Devil,” album two, is haunting and largely instrumental, not trying to fit into any specific era. “Drifters” is a very honest album, as Dirty Beaches – the stage name for solo musician Alex Zhang Hungtai, Taiwanese but operating in Montreal – wind through 37 minutes of some deep, unseated sonic emotions. It’s nearly impossible to pinpoint the genre of music that “Drifters” falls under, as complex and winding guitar rhythms are fitted with equally complex electronic backgrounds. The vocals are largely unintelligible, but probably intentional on Hungtai’s sake. His vocal level ranges from barely audible (“Night Walk”) to semi-rhythmless belting (“Mirage Hall”). It is not the lyrics of the album that beg for the listener’s emotional response, but the volume levels and vocal rhythms. “Drifters” is a deep and gloomy work, asking for multiple listens. Hungtai is a difficult and pained man, and this album highlights the many facets to his own existence.
If “Drifters” did not rely on the lyrics, then “Love is the Devil” certainly doesn’t. The second album is largely instrumental, as Hungtai goes even further to explore his emotions musically. The second album is drastically different, but equally painful and complicated. “Love is the Devil” focuses less on songs and more on ideas. “Drifters” is certainly not radio-friendly material, but the tracks all had at least relative song structure. Hungtai experiments with concept instead of structure on the second album. The album, also hovering near 37 minutes, jumps from flowering epics (“Alone at the Danube River”) to moments of total silence (“Like the Ocean We Part”), all successfully displaying the ideas of a lonely man, recording music by himself.
The albums, though very different, are being sold together. When listened to back-to-back, they only further emphasize Hungtai’s varied and combined emotions. Taken on a basic level, the two albums share a similar and long-running lo-fi sound. But they are thematically different, taking vocal- and structure-based songs and placing them aside instrumental and unstructured songs. This is a very complex work, and is not going to be enjoyed by everyone. But listening to these two albums is an experience, and a look inside the life of a man that feels more like an opportunity to the listener, rather than an expression from the artist.