Fitting sonically somewhere between Xiu Xiu and Timber Timbre – or speaking more broadly between Elvis Presley and David Lynch – Badlands is the darkest homage to the 20th century a young lad could hope for. Dirty Beaches is Vancouver solo artist Alex Zhang Hungtai, and his debut LP is a tormented reduction of rock & roll.
[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MoAczVAbMVA] Any notion of familiar song structure is abandoned for nearly half the record, manifesting as moody, lo-fi rumblings which bridge spurts of mutilated rockabilly. Guitar and drum loops lay the foundation here, framing yelps and whispers. At his most memorable, Hungtai comes nearly to the point of breaking into tongues – on the hypnotic "Sweet 17". Restless love, lust, and longing haunt the record's 26 minutes, and don't expect any kind of resolution.
And rightly so, since it seems that would be the antithesis of this whole album. Hungtai is making it abundantly clear that there's value in the lonelier parts of life with his distant, noisy crooning. It's beautiful in the most urban ways, even if the rough production fixes us in the uncomfortable role of voyeur.
These songs are devoid of any pop fingerprints, embodying a disarticulation of familiar sounds. As if the album art didn't already give it away, this is a dark record. Even though Hungtai's reverb-saturated delivery renders most of his lyrics barely decipherable, the emotional content grants passage into Badlands' possible intent. Hungtai is basking in some kind of struggle; this record is anything but a cry of submission.