Dirty Beaches is Alex Zhang Hungtai, a Taiwanese musician from Montreal whose lo-fi debut, Badlands, doesn’t sound anything like the languidly sunny blog-pop his moniker suggests. Instead, Hungtai steers clear of indie-rock jangle to marry the grimy, red-eyed rumble of Suicide to ghostly rockabilly licks. It’s a pastiche that moves right on by ’90s nostalgia and into the warm embrace of sexy (though submerged) ’50s songcraft and mythology. Whether he’s evoking ravine races in “Speedway King” or channeling the shrieks and love pumps of Sun-era Elvis on “Sweet 17,” Hungtai’s pomaded visions are charged with spidery menace. Much of that is rooted in their mineshaft sonics; every inch of Badlands is coated in sheets of echo and shadow, giving the record an atmosphere much more in tune with the darker, twisted tones of his influences than his bedroom-bound peers. Even when Badlands softens up, as it does with the shop-window balladry of “True Blue” and “Lord Knows Best,” the result is every bit as unsettling as it is romantic.
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