Every Monday through Friday, we deliver a different song as part of our Song of the Day podcast subscription. This podcast features exclusive KEXP in-studio performances, unreleased tracks, and recordings from independent artists that our DJs think you should hear. Each and every Friday we offer songs by local artists. Today’s selection, featured on the Morning Show with John Richards, is “Lord Knows Best” by Dirty Beaches from the 2011 album Badlands on Zoo Music.
Though Dirty Beaches‘ affecting, barebones music is by no means modern, it is certainly not “retro” or “old school” or “classic” either; it sounds more as if it comes from another time and place altogether: dusted-off sonic artifacts completely absent from the progression of popular music. It is stark, minimalist, and yet incredibly powerful, usually only consisting of sincere and almost maudlin vocals, a simple, looping guitar, piano, or percussion line, and a rhythm section so basic you have to think about it to even realize it’s there. Occasionally a stray vocal harmony or instrumental line will appear, but not for long. Some songs are devoid of vocals altogether. However he does it, Dirty Beaches’ music will take you to a place and put you in a state of mind that is utterly unique and hard to pin down. If forced to categorize at gun point, I’d call it an almost obscenely lo-fi cross between Joy Division and the Life Aquatic soundtrack. In non-musical terms, I think this bit from the Fixture Records website is appropriate representation:
Sailor at heart.
A sleepwalking through late night cinemas, along a kaleidoscope backdrop of skylines, and midnight train rides.
Bring your cigarettes.
Behind all of this is Vancouver, BC musician Alex Zhang Hungtai, who is as mysterious as his music would indicate. Very little biographical information is available on the internet, and in most pictures his face is obscured, either by smoke or shadows, if it is not turned away from the camera or out of frame completely. He has been releasing music as Dirty Beaches since 2005, but only in the form of EPs, 7″s, and cassettes; Badlands, which will be released on March 29, will be his first full-length record. Today’s featured song, “Lord Knows Best,” is one of the eight tracks on Badlands and features a simple, repetitive, and almost flippant piano line in addition to Hungtai’s deep, crooning vocals.
No tour dates seem to be scheduled as of now, but hopefully he’ll be through the Northwest sometime after Badlands is released. For now, here’s the video for “Golden Desert Sun”: