Best listened to in the dark
By Katherine W.
Zoo Music (2011)
Dirty Beaches began as a one man project started by Alex Zhang Hungtai, a Taiwanese-born musician who currently resides in Montreal, Quebec. He has been performing and recording under the name Dirty Beaches since 2007.
Zhang’s music is characterized as lo-fi rockabilly, although his recent releases have a more ambient sound. He uses many methods such as sampling and he provides his own vocals, although some songs are instrumental. He has been touring with a band over the past year and a half. I would describe Dirty Beaches’ sound as a mix of Bauhaus and Angelo Badalamenti’s musical compositions for David Lynch’s films.
Film is one of Zhang’s greatest inspirations, so much so that he even directs many of his own music videos. He is particularly inspired by Chinese filmmaker Wong Kar-wai. “[Wong’s films are] usually about the passage of time, and how in relation it distorts your relationship with everything else in life. The central Dirty Beaches character is a product of those experiences. Of someone traveling long distances in search of something, in exile, misplaced, with no home to return to.” said Zhang.
Montreal has been churning out dozens and dozens of successful independent artists over the past two years. The city has made a name for itself as a music lovers dream destination. For me personally, knowing that an artist is based in Montreal is incentive enough to give them a listen. I am rarely disappointed by Montreal musician’s works, Dirty Beaches being no exception.
While lo-fi is a mainstay of many of Montreal’s most popular musicians, the rockabilly influence that is particularly prevalent on this Dirty Beaches album is what makes it really stand out. When I first heard “Lord Knows Best” I assumed that it was an old poorly recorded song from the late nineteen fifties. I really admire that Zhang has chosen to take his sound in such an unexpected direction.
Songs such as “Horses” and “A Hundred Highways” sound very similar to one another, but they are still worth a listen. In a 2011 interview, Zhang said that he wanted the songs on this record to song like music that his father would have listened to as a teenager, and he has definitely achieved that with these songs. What is interesting about “A Hundred Highways” is the raw guitar at the end of the song, it’s a much unexpected touch but it works well.
“Lord Knows Best” and “True Blue” are what make this album what it is; both songs are haunting and beautiful. They stimulate the emotions in a way that is rarely caused by music and create a distinct mood that really reflects Zhang’s passion for film. I have no doubt that it was these two songs that led to Badland’s nomination for the 2011 Polaris Music Prize.