Had to mention this split 12", not just because it features Dirty Beaches and Ela Orleans haunting idiosyncratic soundtracks, but that these three cutting edge labels joined forces in releasing this long player. It couldn't be a more perfect union and like all great split efforts, one will lead you to look into the others work...in this case I'd heard Dirty Beaches first a while back on the Italian Beach Babe label and his spaghetti western sound felt related to Deerhunter's subtly changing long form experiments and Suicide's stark futuristic minimalism.
Ela on the A-Side is also working everything ambient and atmospheric from soft tremolo reverb piano, on "Hope Lange"...or is that a guitar? Already this is going to be futile to try to specifically pick out and dissect the various textures and elements, that's the scientist part of the brain, and this is very much coming from that intangible dreamlike place that's better left to the unconscious. "Neverend" is even aligned with something like Ducktails, a real foreign tropical sound, made up of things that shouldn't necessarily be on an island list of typical instrumentation. A steel guitar slide, the heavily muted picked reverb surf melody, the layers of reverb, and high strung tinny plings above the frets, evoking a kind of seagull cry? Or is that a sample. Stop it. It's those mysterious uses of the familiar that continue to carry this into that futuristic place. Her floaty but in focus vocals keep bringing you to that Julee Cruise place, a mix of retro sounding instrumentation and voyeuristically witnessing this personal memory. Ela's "Movies for Ears" site mentions she has participated in BMI's film scoring program and worked with various experimental/noise projects in NYC, and composing a sort of narrative out of seemingly minimal elements is present in instrumental breaks like "Vertigo" where a string synth plays slowly over quiet field recordings, a stand in for our idea of an orchestra, the false promise of that transcendence maybe? It's quickly broken by "In The Night" as close to a pop feel as we're going to get, an uptempo loose feeling barely danceable track. There's a huge sense of distance from this side, everything is always out of reach, turning up the volume just increases the density and overwhelms. Finally "I know" utilizes a demo chord melody from an old Casio SK-1, and that improvisational sounding guitar slides, singing through a field of delay, this one could even be a part of that '60s wall of sound reemergence of the Vivian or Dum Dum Girls sound or the 13th Floor Elevators pop-psyche.
The B-Side from Dirty Beaches gets into "God Speed" a definitively sounding Suicide homage, the mechanical rapid fire drum machine track or sample and a repeated far off guitar pendulum swinging riff and his soulful vocal...a sort of Elvis animatron, constructed out of the samples from the idea of the vibrato rocker, with a lot of important pieces missing. "Crosses" then mines the repetition further with harpsichord strums and a lonesome electric again, like Matt Mondanile, flirting with the Velvet Underground dissonant sounds and neverending structure. The live drum sound here almost missing beats, nodding off alongside deeper plaintive vocals. "Death Valley" goes to his familiar western sounding place, in love with that slow reverb guitar sound, like Neil Young's Dead Man soundtrack, lost on the tiny AM radio, a smaller steam train struggling down the tracks. There's such strong, specific references he's able to draw from, or just arrange. "Don't let the Devil F", has Alex emotively singing over a looped electric strum, a Leonard Cohen vending machine stuck in the back of that wild west bar, with the saloon doors that swing both ways. His attempts at homage always deliberately thwarted by the unnatural sounds. Next there's two pieces tied to New York, "A-Train" and "L-Train", the brush snare rhythm of "A-Train" decidedly creating that chugging away feel, while a massive delay on the guitar creates an eerie, unsettling effect...another reverb warble perfectly in time, not creating any notes, just humming away underneath...this is the stuff of Bladerunner, if I can nerd out for a second here...it's a dark future, maybe the most accurate because it isn't that far away from where we live today, it's not shiny and convenient, things are going to be even older. Are they going to one day replace the entire subway line? No, it's going to be replaced, piece by piece at different times, it's going to have these indecipherable layers of construction. "L-Train" is an even bleaker piece, which makes sense...mostly industrial assembly line machines stamping away, or the clicking of tracks underneath while a loop of an out of sync organ quietly bleats away in the corner. A kafkaesque mass.
Get it from your pick of various local source, Atelier Ciseaux or La Station Radar they'll be combining their catalog soon, if you're over there in Europe or from Night People who says:
Ela Orleans and Alex Zhang Hungtai are long time friends, artistic allies, and adventurous spirits who have both spent lives traveling between different cities, countries, and continents. Through their individual travels and life direction changes both have remained steadfast and dedicated to their own unique visions of musical outlet. The commonalities represented in Double Feature resound in a sense of space and time, a cinematic view of nostalgia. This is not a nostalgia that is trying to re-create the past but an art that seeks to use the presence and power of history to create more content in the present. Ela's lush baroque pop fitted against Alex's electric drifter blues creates for an eclectic but united pairing that serves as a good representation of their long standing creative dialogue and there correspondence as friends.