Alex Zhang Hungtai of Dirty Beaches, joined by Austin Milne and Simon Frank present a deeply melancholic blend of avant-garde drone and improvisation, made up of saxophones, synths and percussion. Recording their improv session they return to their very distant homes (London, LA and Taipei) to begin editing separately. Love Theme is looming, sorrowful yet graceful.
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By the end of his tenure as experimental outfit Dirty Beaches, you could tell Alex Zhang Hungtai knew his way around drone. Having piloted the project as a lo-fi rockabilly crooner, he divested into sepia-toned ambience, using the latter half of ‘Drifters/Love Is the Devil’ to detail dusty soundscapes that were heartbreaking in the same way a flick through an old photo book is -- it sounded like he was regretting old happinesses. His final record under the moniker, ‘Stateless’, offered four gorgeous meditations on dislocation, centred around improvisation for sax, synth and viola, acting as a final lament in a project that had slowly turned itself inward.
Returning as Love Theme, Alex Zhang Hungtai’s new group, developed with Austin Milne and Simon Frank, suggests the same languishing melancholia of the group who made ‘Stateless’, using a similar yet vastly reconfigured set-up of sax, synths and percussion. Where ‘Stateless’ sounded tragically airy and impermanent, however, Milner and Frank give this record an earthy crunch, the synths distorted to angle the record’s high-pitched sax towards the doomy devastations of Sunn. “Late Crossing” draws on the old Dirty Beaches ability to craft a kind of music that can turn timbre into geography, its racing percussive rhythm recorded against disorienting textures as if we were overground hearing a rattling train pass underneath.
The mix of twin sax and synth is overdriving to the extreme, making for perhaps the most extreme sounding record he’s ever produced -- wandering around distortion and valve-popping drums, “Docklands / Yamatei / Plum Garden” sees the band create something that delves from techno into free jazz, with the ghosts of a heavy metal past coursing through its backend. In its nine minutes, it suggests nearly all of Alex Zhang Hungtai’s musical past lives, each attached to an endless sea of locations and motivations. He’s pushed and pulled by so much at once -- this record sounds ready to embrace that.
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