Bonkers Aussie rhythm kings DEAD may well have you believing they’ve been necking too many Fosters, but under all the madness there is at least some semblance of a method.
The duo have gained a cult following over in their homeland, with their stark and thrashy style opening up the debate as to whether their music is brilliant or just plain ugly.
Formed in 2010 by drummer Jem and bassist Jace, the band have toured Asia and the US, as well as much of Australia. Their characteristic crashing sound finds more favour than you might expect. A blend of wildly experimental songwriting alongside thrash and punk roots, Idiots certainly isn’t for the faint-hearted, and demands your full attention at all times – lest you lose the thread completely.
This seven track release begins so quietly that you find yourself reaching for the volume control, and this continues to set the mood for half the track, with brushed cymbals and electronic meandering I’ve not heard since the very early days of Pink Floyd. God help you if you touched that dial though – because when the chugging bass starts up, it takes the volume to eleven. It has to be said that the brutally visceral vocals sit well with the jarring lo-fi acoustics – this is music that harks back to the true ‘garage’ days.
There are some serious issues here – the slightly ponderous nature of that bass for instance, which often found me wanting it to catch up with the rest of the track, particularly on Couldn’t Keep His Mouth Shut, a song that just gets way too messy for its own good. It’s all very well being experimental and not giving a damn what anyone thinks, but there still has to be some sense of direction, and this one had me lost.
However, when the band gets it right, the results are spectacular – even if they are still virtually unfathomable. It’s a bit like finally getting to appreciate a piece of modern art, but still not knowing fully why you do. It just works: It shouldn’t, but it does. The best example of this is the snorting beast that our intrepid antipodeans chose to call Bed Bugs, which rips along at breakneck speed as the dynamic duo prove they can play fast and tight when they want to, without any loss of focus. The bass is very special here, as it’s highly inventive and the playing is spot on. In parts, it’s breathtaking.
Idiots is the sort of record that makes me so frustrated. You just know that Jem and Jace have put their heart and soul into recording it, and you can tell that they really do care about what they play, even if they don’t give a damn who else likes it. They are clearly very talented as some of the work here demonstrates, and operate well outside the normal comfort zone for many musicians. You can almost see other people drawing inspiration from their work, which I guess is part of the point of what they do. The problem is that along with all the good work there’s a heavy dose of stuff that just doesn’t work, even at an experimental level.
A mixed bag then; but at the very least, DEAD have proven themselves to be anything but idiots and put a smile on my face with their courage and ingenuity.