Release Date: Nov 4, 2014
Record label: Zoo Music
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Indie Rock, Lo-Fi, Noise Pop
Dirty Beaches is Alex Zhang-Hungtai, a man without a true home, a man who has lived in different cities across the globe, constantly searching for a sound, finding them, but needing much more life from them, life elsewhere, in a dilapidated apartment in a forgotten part of a city across the border, by train, where friends of friends come out to greet him in the middle of the night, taking him into their house full of mysterious records and dusty books of poetry, with a meal prepared in the kitchen, and a record on, as they eat and chain smoke, and later on, as they dance, alive as if characters in a Roberto Bolaño novel, dying and mysterious but passionate and blunt, with real desires, but also fantasies that come out in subtle hints like small ghosts, small ghosts that call forth the idea of home, and it is home, because there’s a free bed there, and Hungtai, too, making music as he has been for years now, with several notable releases, trying out genres like rockabilly and ambient movie soundtracks, always never afraid to experiment, as he does so on this new album, Stateless, an album of four long ambient drones, with cheesy but totally majestic titles that inspire us to live more boldly, to challenge ourselves, to “LIVE LOVE DRIVE,” as he writes on Instagram, to take risks and not look back, even if it means rejection, fear, or abandonment, but even more if it means glory, passion, and poetry, the poetry of textual surfaces and the poetry of eating at a food cart at two in the morning, or walking in a snowy German city at night alone, knowing exactly how to get back to your door, or making a roll of sushi in a restaurant on a Wednesday, or washing dishes in a busy restaurant, or getting a tattoo, or riding on a motorbike in a busy Asian city, or getting drunk off wine, or turning 34, or trying to speak Spanish, or reading a newspaper with the Pacific Ocean looming behind the paper (a sparkling blue gem), with old fishermen in boats, not catching, but still enjoying themselves, living the dream, paying attention to the ocean’s surface as we do dust on a windowsill or the farm outside the window, or the beautiful fragility of our stomachs, or how media is affecting our attention to life as we know it, how Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr make this life feel abstracted, an image of an image of an image, but we still live on, divided into two, some of us nostalgic for the past, some of us accelerating our futures super fast, with guitars, synthesizers, and blanched, sun-drenched albums such as this one, four long tracks, four long songs that make you pay attention to yourself, that make you breathe slow and realize that life is a preparation for something that never happens, and that simplicity is not easy, sustaining attention is not easy, but it can be done, and things can be done, and we can discover new things to cook, make, and do, as we ride into the night in the flames of our woes, burning through our desires and past lives with a passion, smoking to our death, drinking to our death, living vicariously through music, but still checking our feeds, feeding on us, on our eyes, our attention spans, our way of talking and understanding the big mystery of life, of time and where time goes (where does time go?), this imaginary encyclopedia that we are reading and writing, because we are in it, we are in this thing, the book of life, we are living, we are eating, we are breathing, we are walking in the East Village, we are dying on a street in Mexico City, we are on the G train in Brooklyn, we are at Magic Garden in Portland, OR, surrounded by thieves and vandals and poets and librarians, watching, looking up, into the lights, into a woman, her soul, her blue soul flickering outward onto our meager existence as a line cook, or as a writer, or as just another object alive on the infinite plain of objects, of toys, books, mugs, street names, museums, windmills, oceans, magazines, particles, swimming pools, websites, like Tiny Mix Tapes, like this review, a piece of prose acting like the thing it’s reviewing, which in the academy is called ekphrasis, an act of translating the energy from one medium to another, usually done when a poet looks at a painting, but in my case, listening to these four tracks, the last album by Dirty Beaches because Hungtai announced that Dirty Beaches is over, and then proceeded to retweet fan appreciation for his project and change his Twitter name to Last Lizard, for reasons unknown, and like that Dirty Beaches is done, RIP Dirty Beaches, it was great listening in on Hungtai’s world, a filmic mixture of life and life-that-can-be, a mixture that makes me more aware of all of the cultures around me, of all the lives out there, tucked away from my vision but still large, almost holographic, looming out there, in foreign voices overheard on the train and in the walls of the apartment building I live in, as I get past the previous phase of my life, but only now faced with the hope for a certain peace and a sense of plainness, and to answer this question of love for the music of Dirty Beaches. Pop Out ? .
Our adult lives exist on a spectrum demarcated by domesticity and liberty. The stability of long-term companionship, steady employment, and home ownership comes at the expense of spontaneity, adventure, and wanderlust—and vice versa. Inevitably, those residing on opposite ends of the spectrum start to long for what the other has. For the working musician—whose very livelihood is a function of perpetual financial risk and chronic displacement—those poles shift further apart with each passing year, thus amplifying the cruel irony of trying to make a living so, that one day, they can enjoy a life that’s ultimately creeping further out of reach.
Alex Zhang Hungtai's nomadic lifestyle has long been at the heart of his work as Dirty Beaches. After spending time living in numerous cities, his 2011 album Badlands examined themes of exile, while 2013's double LP Drifters/Love Is the Devil explored the hedonism and heartbreak of a touring musician.Stateless once again mines the songwriter's favourite subject, and it's his boldest and most conceptual work yet. Here, Hungtai sets himself adrift amidst a haze of wilfully aimless drones, as saxophone, strings and synthesizers ebb and flow and melodies appear only in faint, ephemeral traces.
Dirty Beaches’ (aka Alex Zhang Hungtai) sixth album is without words. It is an album about feeling adrift, without a home, lost in limbo. And not that good kind of limbo, fuelled by rum and a blatant disregard for your lower back. The bad kind of limbo, the transitional state of being neither one thing nor the other.
Alex Zhang Hungtai’s last release as Dirty Beaches, 2013’s double album ‘Drifters/Love Is The Devil’ was discordant, rambling and unstructured. The 34-year-old’s music is the product of a somewhat rootless life. Born in Taiwan, he was raised in Montreal and has recently been drifting around Europe. ‘Stateless’, its artwork featuring a glistening cityscape, comprises four instrumentals mixed by David Lynch collaborator Dean Hurley.
As a songwriter, artist, and emotional human being, Alex Zhang Hungtai has always seemed elusive and unreachable. His remarkable string of records under the Dirty Beaches moniker may be tied to certain genres and sounds — drone music, ’50s rhythm and blues, Alan Vega-esque no wave — but Hungtai’s work hardly feels emulative. Instead, one could imagine him as some sort of ghostly vagabond who has been around music forever.