‘The Game Face’ by Dead Days Beyond Help is an album to blow away the cobwebs from the ears of fans of off-kilter rock; it suggests an engagement with the past while offering something genuinely forward looking, an alliance with free-improv techniques. Many of the tracks contain sections that wouldn’t be out of place in any Cafe Oto or Boat-Ting performance but these are mixed with portions of absolutely scorching riffery and frantic drum freak-outs. It imagines at alternative rock history where Derek Bailey joined Harry Pussy.
This duo of Alex Ward (guitar) and Jem Doulton (drums) seamlessly combine the reflectiveness of improv and the slaying adrenaline rush of the best of the last two decade’s out-rock. This is never more evident than on ‘Route Master’ where a tentative first half of slack-stringed squiggle and rattling percussion gives way to a second act of head-cracking guitar contortions. Other songs gather no moss in their haste to tear off into the distance almost as soon as they begin; the title track is an exhilarating downhill race into metal breakdowns. There is even room for more conventional material like the punk of ‘Personal Best’ or the slow bluesy hill-climb of ‘Sir (What Do You Want?)’.
For me, this album captures perfectly the best of many bands without slavishly devoting itself to producing rigid copies of them. ‘The Game Face’ pushes forward on its own path, building on the work of its predecessors rather than replicating it. At various points I thought I detected the slow patience of Slint, the flaying sonic horror of Harry Pussy, the precision flinching spins of Hella, the noise assaults of Sonic Youth, and the languidity of Bitch Magnet; all this is combined with the space and open-mindedness of contemporary improv in an inventive and gripping collage. This great album is a challenge to those who think art-rock has stalled or collapsed into self-regarding micro-genres. It suggests a way out. And will melt your face off, if that all sounds a bit high-minded.
Purchase the album here.