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'Stateless' waves bon voyage to Dirty Beaches

World-wide traveler, greaser rocker concludes a long journey in latest release

“Wherever you go, there you are”

Jon Kabat-Zinn

Alex Zhang Hungtai was born a drifter. The Taiwanese musician has been traversing the globe recording loops of murky, 50s-informed greaser rock as Dirty Beaches for a little while now. On “Stateless,” however, he appears to have hung up his leather jacket, opting for long stretches of drone instead.

Hungtai explored the droning sound to a degree on last year’s two-for-one “Drifters/Love is the Devil,” but this new release is composed entirely of ambient instrumentals. “Stateless” is Hungtai’s final outing under the moniker of Dirty Beaches, and it outlines a journey that seems to disintegrate the persona completely.

In this four-track LP series, Hungtai creates an atmosphere of alienation and self-searching. “Stateless” concludes this chapter of of longing and angst, opening up the way for new projects.

Though he breaks no new sonic ground, Hungtai uses familiar instruments in a way that makes them almost unrecognizable. He applies the saxophone and viola like the instruments were given to people who had never heard of them and had to improvise their own way of playing. In places, keyboards resemble everything from a bassoon to a flute.

Through the course of these four songs, Dirty Beaches captures the vagrant life, roaming from here to there — a global citizen with nowhere to call home. As the drones progress, it feels as if they’re always getting there, but never quite arriving.

The names of the songs read like headings in a travel log, or the autobiography of an émigré. “Displaced,” the opening number, consists of what sounds to be a tenor saxophone and a heavy drone. The title track starts with a low, ominous note that lightens up through the course of the 11-minute song. Saxophone flourishes drift in and out, coming and going at different points throughout its duration like flights landing and taking off from an airport.

“Pacific Ocean” opens with wide-sounding synthesizer notes which recall the expansiveness of its namesake, a vast body of water stretching out into the horizon beyond the reaches of vision.

Closing track “Time Washes Away Everything” has an air of resignation to it, violas are bowed deliberately while drawn-out saxophone notes stay for extended visits.

Taken as a whole, “Stateless” comes off as a farewell to a state of mind, ending what was previously an ongoing road-trip. Alex Hungtai is saying bon voyage to Dirty Beaches.

It’s hard to tell where he’ll take his music from here. He may have reached the end of the line for this leg of his journey, but he’ll surely be off again on another one before long.


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