Five months before the latest Dirty Beaches record, Alex Zhang Hungtai released an uncommonly revelatory press release that doubled as a suicide note for his longtime solo project. “All seasons are cyclical,” he wrote. We adapt and venture through each phase with intentions of engagement, embracing mistakes and chances that eventually become the foundation of identities and roles we take on in life. All pain is temporary, as in joy, anger, doubt and all human emotions. Nothing is forever.”
To hammer those points home, Hungtai officially retired his Dirty Beaches alias in late October, telling Twitter followers, “It’s time to move on … This may not be a smart move and [a] painful one too, but in the long run I’ll look back and be glad I moved on from Dirty Beaches.”
Of course he will; judging by the four seemingly aimless pieces that flutter, weep and hover without saying a word here, Hungtai was in the middle of wiping his creative slate clean while making Stateless in his current hometown of Lisbon, Portugal. While he’s toyed with instrumental tracks — including the second half of last year’s double album, Drifters/Love Is the Devil — and small-scale film scores before, the singer/multi-instrumentalist has never embraced beatless drones and wide open spaces to the degree he does on what’s essentially the last will and testament of Dirty Beaches. Left with little to go on but song titles that speak for themselves (“Displaced,” “Stateless,” “Pacific Ocean,” “Time Washes Away Everything”), it’s easy to imagine the cigarette-puffing, leathered-up outlaw Hungtai embodied on his breakthrough album (2011′s Badlands) walking straight into a rough body of water and letting the waves carry him out to sea.
Meanwhile, Hungtai’s sax and synths maintain a funereal march alongside the suspended animation of Vittorio Demarin’s viola, which weaves in and out of Dean Hurley’s crisp mix like a catatonic Greek chorus. As death knells go, it’s both somber and peaceful, a way of burning brightly as one fades away.