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Dirty Beaches | Stateless | Album Review

Stateless is a four track instrumental LP, the 6th from artist Dirty Beaches. It was written while the artist behind Dirty Beaches, aka Alex Zhang Hungtai, was travelling and it explores the two years and the many places he experienced.

I got a sense of what I was in for by the abnormal track lengths—over 7 minutes being the shortest track. But in the interests of a broad review, I’m opening my mind as far as it will go and giving this LP a go. The album consists of viola, tenor sax and synthesiser, with Italian composer Vittorio Demarin taking the strings.

Now, I’m not claiming all music needs lyrics. That would be an absurd call to make. But in the absence of lyrics, there must be some other element that allows the listener to connect with the piece. I’m also not claiming all instrumental music has to be Bach or Tchaikovsky, but it must at least be emotive. Stateless by Dirty Beaches has but one sweeping emotion; melancholy. The mood in the room did change with the echoing strings and synths, but I almost couldn’t bear it. I guess this is an accomplishment in itself, but that was achieved after two minutes of the first track. So what purpose did the artist have in continuing this stagnant journey for a further 35 minutes?

On second listen I wanted to find something else in Stateless. I reached out to sense what the Dirty Beaches was feeling in composing these four pieces, and in doing this, I think I got somewhere. However in reality it all just felt a bit pretentious. The tracks didn’t develop, they didn’t move in their long timespan, the ten minutes or more that each played. For some tracks, this worked–I like “Pacific Ocean.” I like its dream-like presence in the room, the airy strings, the morphine-induced state of reflection I found myself in. It just felt like there was something missing.

I found myself simply asking the question; why an album? Why did Dirty Beaches want this to be played in the background of someone’s day, or even in the conscious presence of a music critic? If it were up to me, this music would find a home as a dark, brooding film piece. I hear echoes of so many other atmospheric, grey film scores, so why not join them?

After a number of listens, I came around to my thoughts on this LP. There is certainly a beauty in Stateless, and it does what Dirty Beaches sets out to do—to transport the listener into this other world, to what he describes as the “desert of one’s mind.” It’s certainly not like anything I’ve listen to before, and I have to say I grew to enjoy it.  It may be my own visual brain that wants more from this kind of music, but I’m sure others who listen may think the same— there is a film out there somewhere calling out for this music, and that’s something I’d love to see.

Stateless is out 4th November on ZOO music.