Earlier this year, when a YouTube user commented on a video of 'Love is the Devil', the debut single from Dirty Beaches' new double LP Drifters/Love is the Devil, claiming the barren, haunting piece was nothing more than "modulated synth chords", Alex Zhang Hungtai personally replied: "I don't care about pleasing your expectations. I just do what I want to write. You can judge it all you want. Modulated synth chords. I was crying my fucking eyes out when i wrote this and punching myself in the face," he wrote. "I don't give a shit about what peoples expectations are. This is why I'm doing this record. its for myself and my life."

For all the good that the internet has done for music promotion and exposure, it can be equally as devastating for musicians who read or hear the anonymous mass' opinions rattling off of the barren corners of every digital canyon. Most artists choose to avoid and ignore online criticisms, but in this case Hungtai took the offensive. It's almost surprising, considering his music seems to exist in an alternate world, unaffected by the influence of the internet. But as a musician who makes stark emotionally naked songs, it seems fitting he'd pour his heart out online in defense of what surely must be considered his best work to date.

Technically, Drifters/Love is the Devil is a double LP, with Drifters being the lyrical and more accessible side, and Love is the Devil acting as an abstract, instrumental second half. Drifters opens with 'Night Walk', a sinister drum machine and looped-guitar swinger that acts as a natural transition for listeners most familiar with the haunted rockabilly of Badlands. Most of the first half of the LP takes a similar approach, with wholly unintelligible lyrics and chunky, roundabout guitar leads. 'I Dream in Neon', a surprisingly bluesy diversion, is more deserving of the same outlaw film comparisons his earlier work received. In fact, even if many of the song titles didn't reference night time, fog, or cities, Drifters/Love is the Devil would still often feel like being lost in an unfamiliar, swirling mass of hazy neon lights.

Drifters is sequenced in such a way that the ambient, experimental pieces slowly fold themselves in between the Badlands-ish jams, creating a seamless mood shift. 'Belgrade' opens with a familiar circular bass line, but eventually succumbs to wailing organ and squealing electronic feedback. 'Casino Lisboa' is similarly routine, until a cacophony of organ noise begins to punctuate each verse. Dirty Beaches has often been called cinematic music, but Drifters/Love is the Devil creates tangible sense of space rarely found in any of his previous albums.

Following the Kraftwerk and Suicide inspired 'ELLI' and the two part bouncing Casio-dance floor 'Mirage Hall', the album never features another percussion instrument or beat. 'Love is the Devil', the previously mentioned track featuring "modulated synth chords", is actually a heartbreaking, lo-fi orchestral string piece. The piano and string drone of 'This is Not My City' is equally somber, reaching a brief and dramatic climax.

But for an artist who has become known in the past few years equally for his Marlin Brando-esque bad boy style and his throwback lo-fi doo-wop inspired rock ‘n' roll, how can you be prepared for a song like 'Alone at the Danube River'? A seven and a half minute solo guitar performance, it's not only the most heart-wrenching, beautiful moment on the album, it is among the best songs released this entire year. The ambling, almost improvised guitar phrase sounds like music cutting through a distant icy fog, and when a pristine synth drone envelops the entire track in warmth, it's the closest thing to audible catharsis imaginable.

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.