Dirty Beaches, Badlands

Andrew Parks

By Andrew Parks

on 03.29.11 in Reviews

As suggested by the smoke-engulfed, gel-slicked Johnny Cash character on its record sleeve, Dirty Beaches — or, at least, main member Alex Zhang Hungtai — are cooler than you could ever hope to be. He's a real desperado type, playing solo shows with a guitar in one hand and a comb in the other — returning it periodically to his back pocket, presumably right next to his switchblade.

He’s here to cast spells and there’s no choice but to succumb

And then there's the music itself. Contrary to what some critics may tell you, Hungtai's songs aren't lo-fi so much as they're beamed from another time and place, the kind of music that suddenly turns up on a phantom oldies station through your grandfather's old transistor radio — the one that hasn't worked in years. Not since Vietnam, anyway.

There's a reason Hungtai has repeatedly said that he's writing "soundtracks for films that don't exist." Like the directors he undoubtedly adores (let's say, David Lynch and Wong Kar-Wai), the singer/songwriter isn't out to entertain us. He's here to cast spells, whether that involves rail-jumping riffs and a rockabilly wail ("Speedway King") or a piano melody that's straight out of a dirty saloon, circa 1869. There's no choice but to succumb.