Exclaim!'s Best of 2013: Top 20 Pop & Rock Albums, Part One

14. Dirty Beaches
Drifters/Love Is the Devil
(Zoo Music)

Dirty Beaches' 2011 breakout album Badlands had two distinct sides, with the first half made up of percussively fuzzy jams and the flip-side dominated by softly meditative compositions. On Drifters/Love Is the Devil, project mastermind Alex Zhang Hungtai takes a similar approach, but ups the ante by splitting the two halves into separate albums.

First up is Drifters, on which he overlays hypnotic art-rock grooves with jagged shards of guitar noise and sinister, effects-soaked vocals. Inspired by Hungtai's touring experiences, the album explores the neon-lit hedonism of traveling musicians. In keeping with this theme, the songs were extensively road-tested and then recreated by the singer and his touring bandmates Shub Roy and Bernardino Femminielli.

Love Is the Devil, on the other hand, is all about quiet reflection and downcast wallowing, and it largely consists of instrumental arrangements ranging from avant-jazz ambience to atmospherically sprawling guitar sketches to cinematic orchestrations. These wordless dirges were recorded in the dead of night while alone in a Berlin studio. The melancholia on display here can be seen as the fallout from the pleasure-seeking indulgence of Drifters, and Hungtai's talent for setting a skin-crawling mood makes this double-LP a brilliant chronicle of the ups and downs of life on the road. (Alex Hudson)