Dirty Beaches songwriter Alex Zhang Hungtai started with a desire to make films and, sure enough, his album Badlands feels like a movie, owing as much to filmmakers like Jim Jarmusch, David Lynch, and Wong Kar-Wai as it does to his musical influences, Suicide, Nebraska, and lonesome Roy Orbison pathos. It's a muddied mix of rockabilly swagger, '50s balladry, and hissing ambient textures, and it vaguely relates the story of the youth of Zhang Hungtai's greaser father. On tracks like "Sweet 17" and "Horses" (a Patti Smith cover), Zhang Hungtai oozes deserted-highway-in-the-middle-of-the-night menace, while tracks like "True Blue" and "Lord Knows Best" (which samples "Voila" by Francoise Hardy) exude an entirely different feeling, nostalgic and lonesome while still buried under smeared reverb and distortion, sounding a million miles away. Opting not to perform with a backing band, Dirty Beaches live is as much performance art as it is a concert, with Zhang Hungtai, who has lived in Taiwan, Hawaii, San Francisco, New York, China, and Montreal, standing alone on the stage, cradling a white Fender Stratocaster and vintage mic, playing over backing tracks while channeling his inner '50s miscreant he no doubt discovered watching grainy old black-and-white films.
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