Death Grips don’t make anything easy. From missing-in-action concert “performances” to label-baiting free album releases, the band foments controversy with its every hyper-kinetic, brutish utterance. In a reductive comparison, they’re the indie analog to an artist like Kanye West. But all that doesn’t matter unless there’s something to lend it credence. Absent of any music, MC Ride/Zach Hill/and Andy Morin are petulant, barking dogs without any bite. Government Plates, their latest out-of-nowhere release then is the latest attempt to provide fangs.
A sound of breaking glass jump-starts the Dylan-indebted opener “You might think he loves you for your money…”. It’s as much a sly wink to their expectation shattering tendencies as it is a way to announce their presence. Ever agitated, mere seconds tick off before MC Ride is screaming from the abyss. The music doesn’t constrict, it collapses. Zach Hill’s drum kit sounds predestined to shatter into micro-fragments and the rumbling bass is as stable as a glass of water during an earthquake. In terms of welcoming parties, the Leatherface clan would be more inviting.
Though the feral animal presentation is frightening, Death Grips’ moments of measure are similarly bone-chilling. In August, I wrote synth-manipulator “Birds” captured the group preparing for war. Here MC Ride mumbles with a dead-eye stare “I got today shoveling graves, I got tomorrow turning in your grave” while arming to the gills. He’s seemingly indifferent to his doom, even as looping guitars bleed out in front of him. Following an onslaught, the final few seconds of closer “Whatever I want (f*** who’s watching)” unravel in relative silence. “Anne Bonny” expands the Godspeed You! Black Emperor idea of being “trapped in the belly of the machine” while it bleeds to death. Bolts jostle on the steely frame of synthesizers, Ride practically shouting them off, but they never come completely unhinged. It’s the auditory equivalent of watching someone perpetually teeter on the edge of a cliff.
But this is still Death Grips we’re talking about and if anything of theirs sells, it certainly isn’t reserve. Clattering drums in “Feels like a wheel” recall Radiohead’s “Idioteque” set to warp-speed. The intermittent vocal chatter and keyboard trills possess the hypnotic quality of an out-of-control-merry-go-round hurling rusty nails from its unstable center. The aforementioned “Whatever I want (F*** who’s watching)” sheds several skins: cascading electronic waterfalls, heart pounding drum hits, repeating caveman hollers, and punishing recoils before coalescing into a nauseating musical bouillabaisse. “Big House”s barely held together opening synth and galloping drum beat imagine a level of Super Mario Bros. played by a binging meth-addict. Inevitably the “game over” sound parachutes in, propelled by Ride’s incendiary ramblings.
Lyrically Ride’s focuses remain lingering paranoia (made clear by the “skin creeping” of “Big House”) and the ever-watchful camera lens of Uncle Sam. Past an us vs. them mentality, Ride’s hoarse diatribes sprout in the rocky grounds of “me against the world”. If career moves are any indication, the band thrives in the land of the pariah. Much of the careening album pays little mind to “we” (royal or otherwise) instead fixating on the exclusive “I”. “Two Heavens” only casualty is Ride, informing us he’s on his “way out”. The skittish head-nodder “This is Violence Now (Dont get me wrong)” teases the titular action without anything resembling a payoff; leaving us alone in Ride’s trembling hands. A pinnacle of paranoia, the title track churns: chopped up vocals, distant bomb blasts, and interstellar communique together to craft a 21st Century manifesto railing against unchecked corporate greed. Sifting through the lyrical rubble, the band’s punk aesthetic can be found.
Speaking to Pitchfork in late-2012 about the band’s chaotic dissolution from Epic, drummer Zach Hill somewhat mystically said “the place where we’re coming from sometimes transcends logic.” For all the schizoid musings the group concocts, the line was right on the money. Approaching this album with any preconceived notions is a fool’s errand. To even expect a reformulating of No Love Deep Web misses the mark entirely. Near the end of my Tuesday article concerning Enter the Wu-Tang‘s 20th anniversary, I wrote “Wu-Tang didn’t kowtow to the prevailing wisdom of the era (innovators rarely do). We met them on their own terms” and that’s equally true of Death Grips. Every schizophrenic yawp and anvil blast either sends you running for the hills or draws you in further. As bristly and repudiating of the status quo as Government Plates is, it’s also reaffirming.
(You can get the album for free here or alternately at Death Grips Soundcloud account)