Badlands is the debut output from singer-songwriter Alex Zhung Hai, aka Dirty Beaches. The Vancouver by-way-of China youngster shows an amazing amount of talent on Badlands, crafting songs with an outdated sound, but with the warmth and earnestness of timeless music. The dusty crackles and hiss of a home-recorded album fill the blank space of Badlands, making tracks like “Sweet 17” and “Speedway King” sound like bootlegs of The Beatles playing The Cavern Club. And it’s that same tarnished sound that makes the album truly stand out. “Lord Knows Best,” the album’s single, is possibly the most heartwrenching track I’ve ever heard. Zhung Hai’s vocals echo beautifully as he sings, “The lord knows best/ That I don’t give a damn about anyone/ But you.” All the while, piano keys are looped and drums are sparsely struck, creating an atmosphere that is both haunting yet moving. Side A of Badlands is mostly free-form pop music, while Side B is populated with slower and more personal tracks, creating a well-rounded album that will appeal to almost anybody. If you don’t listen to it now, you’ll at least hear me blasting “Lord Knows Best” as the first song at my wedding.
Editor’s Note: Vancouver-by-way-of Taiwan, sorry!