Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound engineering by Brad Kopplin, Recorded at Breakglass Studio in Montreal, Canada, in October 2010, at the Pop Montreal music festival
Never before has there been any desire within me to own a muscle car or a motorcycle, but Dirty Beaches has changed all of that. Instead of not caring about my mode of transit or caring that the cars that I drive are all kinds of broke down, noisy and as pitiful as they come, he makes me need to have something that's like a child to me - that I would take care of, wash on the weekends, give the highest octane fuel and go on adventures with. Alex Zhang Hungtai, the one man behind Dirty Beaches, doesn't have to do much convincing to get me to that point. He walks into a room, this young man does, with his tight, black leather jacket hanging from his shoulders and you trick yourself into believing that he smells of chewing tobacco, bug guts, vintage gasoline and denim, spun out tire marks and, somehow, the guttural mating call of a Harley-Davidson, as if the sound could have its own particular scent and that scent would be something that you'd want to smell like if you could. Dirty Beaches songs bring us to the classic years of motorized vehicles, when they weren't so new, but they were getting to be so great, when there were no seatbelt laws, when it might have made you feel proud to get out there on the open highway, open those babies up, maybe even crack a beer while doing it, and just driving. Now, we feel guilty if our driving doesn't have a purpose, but Hungtai - with his retro cool and his fuzzy songs of the same, believe it or not - makes you feel as if you can shed all of your responsibilities and streak away from your worries, with just a backpack and a bed mat riding with you. You can just get out and about, blazing through backroad towns, dining in dives, drinking in holes in the wall, listening to localized chatter and hustling at the pool table for some extra gas money. Who knows where you'll sleep. It doesn't matter if you pick the right season of the year to go out and get lost. He writes from a point of view of a man who doesn't have anything to lose and almost just as little to gain. If he sets out onto the road and just keeps driving, just keeps going in one direction, how many people are really going to get concerned or notice his absence? It's a question he feels he knows the answer to. It's a journey, each of the songs that Hungtai writes and sings in a moping low voice, as if he's drifting between sleep and awareness, consciousness and vapor, yet all of it feels like a deep love of the valleys and the long stretches that make a mind turn to madness. He makes sensations that are meant to note and cure restlessness and what they tend to do is cause a different kind of restlessness that comes when the solitary catharsis gets scarier and lonelier that that which you're running away from.