A couple of years ago, Dirty Beaches’ “Sweet 17” was a frighteningly good treat; a fuzzed-out, retro greaser anthem that served up slick background melodies, rockabilly-inspired vocal shrieks, and a generous helping of cool, garage-rock nostalgia. Now, Alex Zhang Hungtai has released Drifters/Love is the Devil, a full-length that’s almost as lost and wayward as he is. Throughout his ambitious new double LP, we follow Hungtai on a perplexing journey, but it’s all in the name of adventure.
Oh, the places you’ll go on Drifters/Love is the Devil. The Taipei-born, Montreal-bred Hungtai has lived in New York, Honolulu, Toronto, Berlin, Vancouver, and Shanghai—and that’s just according to Wikipedia. In interviews, he’s alluded to the fact that he’s essentially never really had one place to call home. Since Dirty Beaches is a one-man project, it’s only fitting that our central character projects his inner loneliness onto his music. Most of the sounds on Drifters/Love is the Devil—from the groovy, warped darkness of “Night Walk” to the beautiful, haunting melodies of “I Don’t Know How To Find My Way Back To You”—feels empty, but no less rich and expressive.
Drifters/Love is the Devil is a far cry from the rock n’ roll vibe of Badlands, the 2011 album that spawned “Sweet 17,” but it’s a fully new, experimental concept that’s easy to get behind. Really, the two are completely separate releases; Drifters is heavy, gritty, and noisy, while Love is the Devil is delicate and atmospheric, with an experimental twist. It’s on Drifters that Hungtai probably hits his stride, especially on “I Dream in Neon,” a vibrant delight that revels in an old-school, trouble makin’ music sort of vibe. Similarly, “Casino Lisboa” evokes the adventuresome spirit that only a weird, wonderful vagabond like Hungtai could dream up. Truly, though, you just can’t lose with any of the varied and delightful eccentricities of Drifters/Love is the Devil, even when it feels most lost.
3.5 / 5 bars