Thursday, March 10, 2011

Dirty Beaches - Badlands (2011, Zoo Music)

RIYL: rock 'n' roll music, The Hospitals, Carl Perkins, Suicide

Badlands is a really cool, conventional rock 'n' roll record. Except. Except it evokes something alien... summons a ghost and makes you stare at it... freaks you out a little bit... takes a polaroid of something you've seen a thousand times and shocks you with what develops there. So if what's being played is real oldfashioned rock 'n' roll, Dirty Beaches' treatment of the material does two things:

1. It instills in the old form a sense of the rawness, the dangerousness, the violence and darkness and scariness that it's almost impossible for a contemporary listener (or anyone who has come in contact with pop music over the course of the last forty or so years) to hear in the standard: the fact that an Elvis song was once a dangerous thing is something my twelve year-old sister laughs at. Everybody knows that Chuck Berry is nice and cute and is somehow maybe he had something to do with poodle skirts didn't he? Or is he the guy who runs that famous hamburger chain with the checkered floors?

Point is, the rock 'n' roll that Dirty Beaches is playing is more-or-less the original recipe. But his presentation -- the gurgling, clacking recording, guitar rumbling like a car engine, vocals like they're being received through a decapitated drive-in movie speaker -- gives to the old classic stuff the feelings that horrified suburban parents heard in it the first go'round: This is the music your great-grandmother shattered and burned in the streets, praying for your grandpa's salvation afterwards.

2. It gives the old music a sense of its own age -- like this is a relic recording, some tape some guy found that sat in a warehouse for fifty-seven years getting dripped on, chewed by rats, exposed to wind and sun and dust. It calls to attention the fact that, really, what we have in rock 'n' roll is some now-almost-ancient folklore, an antique form of music. And Badlands plays like an antique, awash in all the grainy nostalgia that comparison entails.

It's a trip down memory lane -- but memory lane is kind of a nightmare, and you never really understood it until now.

- Sam C

DIrty Beaches - Horses

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