Editors' pick

Dirty Beaches


Editorial Review

This year, David Lynch added recording artist to his resume, which probably says something like “director, film noir icon, inspiration for your nightmares” at the top. The results were surprising — straightforward electro-pop that was more bright and bouncy than dark and sinister. So Lynch won’t be providing the soundtrack to his own movies. No problem. Alex Zhang Hungtai is more than up to the task.

As one-man-band Dirty Beaches, Hungtai writes songs with the same vision as the director of “Blue Velvet” and creator of “Twin Peaks.” (He’s admitted as much in interviews.) His creations are distinctly American and exist where the innocent and inauspicious intersect. Swaggering ’50s rock-and-roll and the bleak, minimalist drone of electronic music pioneers Suicide serve as the basic building blocks on his third album, “Badlands.” Songs slowly chug forward, are recorded at such a low volume and are blasted with so much echo and reverb that they sound like the ghostly remains of a half-century-old jukebox.

It’s Hungtai’s vocals that make for the sinister element in the equation. He doesn’t say much, but his repetitive shrieks are almost always shiver-inducing. Words are less lyrics than they are mantras — “Speedway! Cadillac king!” he exclaims repeatedly on the opener, while the title of “Sweet 17” transforms from a wobbly warble to a vicious howl.

“True Blue” is the gentlest song — think Roy Orbison if he wore even darker sunglasses — and, like the rest, it never veers from its straight-line course. And that restraint is what makes “Badlands” such an enthralling listen. There’s a faint sense of unease throughout, as if something sinister is lurking around a corner. It’s rarely the case, but it sure keeps your heart beating fast.

--David Malitz, March 29, 2011

"I get famous for leaving bands."

Speaking from Austin's South by Southwest music festival in March, Frankie Rose was about to do just that. Again.

This time it was Dum Dum Girls. Before that it was Crystal Stilts. Before that, Vivian Girls. Rose played drums for each of those buzzed-about bands, and she bailed just as things started to get bigger.

If those perpetual departures were necessary to ensure that her self-titled debut album fronting her new band, the Outs, got made, then it's hard to argue with her decisions. The sparkling batch of pristine pop songs backpedals from the messy, low-fidelity recordings favored by many in the indierock underground. Instead, the album overflows with girl-group harmonies, smart hooks and feathery reverb that bear the hallmarks of a Phil Spector production.

The relaxed, self-assured sound is a bit surprising coming from someone who says she's both a workaholic and very self-critical. And even though she's out from behind the kit and playing her own songs, Rose, 31, isn't exactly content.

"I'm really bad at savoring the moment," she says from her mother's Huntington Beach, Calif., home after wrapping up a West Coast tour, which helps explain her nomadic ways. "I'm already getting antsy. I'm already ready to do something else."

Not that fans should worry about another imminent band departure. After all, there's touring to be done in a van that Rose aquired in a unique manner.

As her most recent former band plays for tens of thousands of people while opening for Vampire Weekend in the United States and MGMT in Europe, Rose found herself in quite another predicament as she hoped to take her songs to small clubs across the country. Namely that she couldn't. The Brooklyn-based band had no wheels so it took to Kickstarter, the leading "crowdfunding" Web site, to ask for help.

"We had no other choice," she says. "It was either ask people for money or rob a bank."

The band's goal was to raise $4,000, with different rewards depending on donation. Give $10, get a download of a live EP. Give $100, get a limited-edition cassette, a personalized mixtape, a handmade T-shirt and entry to a show. Give $500 and the band would come to your house and cook you dinner.

The venture was successful - they received $4,373 in total - and now they cruise from show to show in a 2000 Dodge Ram conversion van.

"I don't know how to feel about it, to be honest," Rose admits. "I guess it's pretty punk in the end, lots of people donating small amounts of money. But it still feels really strange."

They did end up cooking dinner and washing dishes afterward for one large benefactor (it was Mike Schulman, who runs their label, Slumberland Records). But that doesn't make her a cook, just like working part time at a bar doesn't make her a bartender, which is how the influential Web site Pitchfork identified her in a recent review, much to her displeasure.

"I'm a bartender and then I make records?" she asks. "Actually, I don't know how to make a drink. If you were like, 'Make me a fuzzy navel!' I would not know what that is."

--David Malitz, Oct. 13, 2010