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Dirty Beaches – Badlands (Review)

April 20th, 2011 No comments

Dirty Beaches – Badlands (4 Stars out of 5)

The Dirty Beaches’ album Badlands, has a unique niche in that the brand of Rockabilly discovering the Cramps feels like the soundtrack to every B-Movie Surfer-Meets-Vampire movie that you will ever see.

As we know about most “Surfer-Meets-Vampire” movies is that they are not all that good.  In fact, I am not sure that I have ever seen one myself. These 50s and 60s flicks that would make it to the screen with vixens in bathing suits and/or blood often exhibited the extremes of our society. Their campyness was charming in a “I love to freeze a Twinkie and eat it” even if it’s not healthy for me.

Dirty Beaches is that music that you hear at the small dive bar your friend took you to and you realize that everyone is cooler than you are and you realize that you’re a Yuppie living in your Lakeview apartment and you might as well be living in the suburbs.  Yeah, you might want to put down that Heineken.

The Dirty Beaches is the soundtrack for every cool place that you have ever been while you are wasted and the music surrounded you while you drank PBRs and several shots of Jameson before puking outside in the alley.

The aspect carries a film noir like quality to it, as suggested elsewhere his music is inspired more by movies and directors like David Lynch providing a eerie backdrop of longing.

The brainchild behind Dirty Beaches is Alex Zhang Huntai, a Taiwanese born nomad currently living in Montreal. His music is better suited for soundtracks of movies of yore, and maybe just the fact that I can enjoy the 3 am movie on TMC could illustrate my enjoyment of the album.

The way that I see Huntai’s lo-fi music representing is sounding almost like a memory that he is trying to reproduce.  As his nomadic travels have taken him from Taiwan, Honolulu and Vancouver, we hear through Huntai’s ears the memories taken from these locations, never crystal clear but often blurred as memories often are. I recollect hearing about how various Asian cultures had grappled onto this old rockabilly surf music and would be curious how personal this might be for Huntai.

At first listen, the first standout track was ‘Horses’ straight out of an old surfer movie, playing it pretty simple with the drum loops and guitar but the arrangment is perfect for his singing delivery which is straight out of an Elvis Presley style.

What he is often able to do successfully is take a song like ‘Sweet 17’ with it’s sexual prowess and you can see Elvis’s sweat dripping from his forehead.  Huntai yelps into the microphone while a blurry Ventures-induced guitar beat is provided.

In checking out some of his live material, I am still up in the air regarding his live performance if he is trying to do too much at once. Acts that are derived out of your studio apartment can sound pretty good on record but once on tour they might fall a little flat. This performance shows promise but others not as much.  Merril  Gerbus, from tUnE-yArDs (who will be featured in a future review), shows that this jump can be made from playing the role of the McGyver musician and performing exponentially onstage. There is definitely potential there for something more substantial.

Huntai admits to using many drum loops borrowed from Youtube for this recording and while some might point out that they would prefer that a more authentic drum sound is created on his own, in an era where loops have been used for years there is still an art for picking out the correct sound on his recordings. So what? It works, it’s relevant and this recording is for real.

Only running at a paltry 26 minutes, some might consider this an “EP” material, but there is real talent here to be found. This album is a true delight in every possible manner.

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