Douglas Martin looks dapper in blue velvet.
We’re quickly approaching the 2/3 mark of 2011, and Badlands is still my favorite record of the year. It’s a record marked with grimy, dingy overtones, one marked with an uncomfortable feeling of disquiet. Using the grit of analog tape to render the image of a lost black-and-white movie recorded on a shoestring budget by a staunch David Lynch devotee, Badlands is quite possibly one of the most unsettling records to be released in 2011, and that includes the ballads. Judging from his sometimes-acoustic, sometimes-instrumental pre-Badlands work (and the Take Away Show that came after the album’s release), it’s incredibly hard to tell what direction Beach proprietor Alex Zhang-Hungtai would go in after his breakout record. “Lone Runner,” the forthcoming single courtesy of the Suicide Squeeze Singles Series, shows that he’s not quite done exploring his cracked take on the already-jagged edges of rockabilly music.
Buoyed by a lurching bassline and a looped handclap whose slight cutoff at the end of every fourth bar makes the music sound like a record skipping perfectly on the downbeat, “Lone Runner” makes the most of its few components. Heavily droning guitar runs courses through the undercurrent of the song, eventually swelling to nerve-racking volumes and dissipating only so the figure pacing violently through the shadows can take the spotlight once more.
Just as the Martin Rev comparisons cropped up when “Sweet 17” was making the internet rounds, Zhang-Hungtai’s ominous growl here elicits comparisons to another incredibly celebrated frontman: Nick Cave. Zhang-Hungtai’s voice stalks throughout the beginning of the song as his emotional state becomes more and more threadbare, his vicious howl of “DON’T LET THE DEVIL CATCH YOU! / DON’T LET HIM TAKE YOU BY THE HAND!” adopting an even scarier form of lunacy than his whoops and tortured screams on Badlands, becoming an even more compelling lyricist with each new song released. It was already apparent on the full-length, but “Lone Runner” solidifies that few artists today are making music as sinister and legitimately unhinged as Dirty Beaches. The frightening part is that he’s getting better as he gets crazier.