Taiwan-born and Montreal-based singer Alex Zhang Hungtai gives old-time rockabilly 45s the remix treatment - using a sampler to whittle Brylcreem-slathered riffs into an endlessly cycling two-note pulse.
On Monday night at Black Cat, Hungtai performed a 30-minute set, hitting most of the highlights from his recent full-length, “Badlands.” Dirty Beaches is a one-man band and Hungtai's stage set-up is as stripped down as his music - just a roughed up electric guitar and a rinky-dink microphone. And he could only use one at a time. There was no mic stand. If Hungtai wanted to let it rip on guitar - which he did, often - he had to stoop to the floor, set down his microphone, and strap on his six-string. When it came time to sing again, he did the reverse. During the interim, the sampler held center stage.
On record, Hungtai's music is icy and cinematic. It's only a matter of time before "Sweet 17" - with it's bluesy washed-out tones and motorized chug- pops up in a Jim Jarmusch flick. The songs on Badlands are wrought from an innovative combo of low and high-tech impulses. The core of Dirty Beaches' schtick - heavily effected singing over samples - is thoroughly modern. But the twangy source material imbues the music with an organic, folk-art feel. It's a man with an electronic box, but it sounds like a band.