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Tuesday, May 14, 2013


  I've read/heard a lot of Artist complaints about critics.  I sympathize with the Artists, but I also they think they assign too much significance to whether a review is "good" or "bad" instead of simply recognizing that A review is better then no review at all.  Perhaps this sounds like an iteration on the old maxim "There is no such thing as bad press," but that is not the case.  I actually don't believe that there is such a thing as bad press. (1)  However reviews are not simply a kind of "press," they are opinions expressed about specific works of art according to a more or less determined sense of aesthetic judgment developed by the writer.  The impact of album reviews on Audience size is more complicated then the impact of an Artist interview, event preview or feature.  Obviously,  a slew of bad reviews at the initiation of an Artistic career can be detrimental to the development of that career and vice versa, but as Artist audience size grows the relationship between critical acclaim and audience size is weak to non-existent.  Rather, it is the continued attention by critics- positive or negative that can be sustaining for an established Artist.

 After all, there is no accounting for taste, but there is certainly accounting for the size of an Audience, and the size of that Audience directly impacts the viability of an Artistic career, so if a "bad" review of an established Artist increases Audience size (which it does, if only because the reviewer themselves have thought about and listened to the record) it has served it's purpose and there are no hard feelings.

  Of course, there is essentially only one critical opinion that matters, but it's useful to see what other critics thing to get a feel for what might be in order:

Drowned in Sound: 7/10

       Starting with the lo-fi, dirty sounding processed beat-laden Drifters, a record that owes much to post-punk experimentalists such as A Certain Ratio, Cabaret Voltaire or Clock DVA as it does anything this side of the millennium. Opener 'Night Walk' standing out as possibly Hungtai's finest four minutes to date, encompassing all of the above alongside a lazy, hypnotic groove and indiscernible vocals so low in the mix their presence acts as an extra form of instrumentation rather than exercise in storytelling. 'I Dream In Neon' could be Clinic doing their finest Depeche Mode impersonation in a parallel universe. That it's entirely the work of one man speaks volumes for Hungtai's undoubted talents as a songwriter, musician and producer of considerable merit. At times inspired by primitive tribal rhythms as on the coarsely orchestrated 'Casino Lisboa', other times abstract,discordant and obtuse; 'ELLI' and 'Landscapes In The Mist' fitting each bill respectively at various intervals. It's on the colossal three-songs-in-one 'Mirage Hall' where Drifters lives up to its name. Layered New Order-style keys giving way to ambient textures before Hungtai progresses into an alter ego of Scott Walker's Tilt in the final third providing food for thought. From a listening perspective Drifters is an engaging, and often intriguing concoction.

Line of Best Fit: 7.5/10

On Drifters/Love Is The Devil Hungtai goes bigger and, in the wake of the break-up of a long-term relationship, turns that eye for the darker side of human nature on himself in what feels like his cinematic debut. Dirty Beaches has always been an immediately visual project; the kind that produces records comprised of characters and narratives rather than verses and choruses. Accordingly, just in the last month Hungtai released his third film soundtrack, Water Park, whose serene, under-the-water ambience lends the short film it accompanies (about a shopping mall in Edmonton, Canada — naturally) a celestial awe; as if Hungtai was already imagining something bigger, more widescreen. And so Drifters/Love Is The Devil, a double concept album of sorts that tells ‘the same story but from two different perspectives’, is Hungtai’s shot at creating something cinematic in scope as well as style.

The 405: 8/10
In fact, catharsis might be the easiest descriptor for Dirty Beaches, who has flirted with everything from rockabilly to ambient instrumental cassette to film soundtracks. The closing track 'Berlin' is naked and minimal, almost serving as a final lullaby on an emotionally brutal record. It's representative of a spiritual rejuvenation that only artists like The Caretaker and William Basinski have been able to achieve in recent years with similar music. Artists like Basinski and Kirby rely on the emotional pull and conceptual backstory to carry the narrative of their albums. But one of the most endearing things about Dirty Beaches is his consistently sincere online presence, offering slices of fan love and encouraging pep talks. He's honest and unpretentious in a way that makes him stand out among his contemporaries. On that same YouTube video of 'Love is the Devil', Alex replied to another (albeit more positive) comment and said: "your [sic] not alone. We all suffer. But we all try to find some way to reach out to people somewhere, somehow, in this vast existence... and we all try to make the best of it." Even without lyrics or a voice for over half the album, Dirty Beaches still affects emotions in a primitive, endearing way.

  Two days later, the record is still sitting atop the Midheaven Weekly Top Sellers list, and on the monthly chart it's moved from #6 to #5.  On the three month chart it's gone from 20 to 10 in the 3 days it's been on the top of the weekly chart.  And on the six month chart it's in the 40s.  Based I'm what I'm reading above it doesn't really look like a BNM is in the offing- an average of "8.0" if mirrored wouldn't be enough.  So I'm lowering my expectations.  In the indie music game, you can't have low enough expectations ha ha.


(1) New Mexico are stuck in San Diego (SAN DIEGO CITY BEAT)

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