Thursday, 3 May 2012

An Over- Indulgence: Death Grips

Artist: Death Grips
Album: The Money Store
Release Date: 24/4/2012

Why you're unlikely to hear anything better than Death Grips' second album all year

In Quentin Tarantino's 1994 classic "Pulp Fiction", just before the two main protagonists portrayed by Samuel L. Jackson and John Travolta enter a burger cafe to confront to simple street crims who ripped them off, Jackson utters the words "Let's get in role." Not only does this signify the moment in the film where Jackson's character turns into one of the creepiest and intense psycopaths ever witnessed on screen, but it's also a saying that can be applied to pretty much any situation in life when a sense of responsibility or character is recquired. It's an adage that has never consciously been acknowledged in music before, but one that you could easily fit to the mentality of somebody like David Byrne in some of Talking Heads' darker work, or MF Doom throughout his entire career. In recent times though, the most noticeable and obvious exponent of such a mentality is, without a doubt, California experimental hip- hop trio Death Grips.

Comprising of Hella drummer Zach Hill, producer Flatlander and the brutish, intense and enigmatic MC Ride (real name Steffan Burnett), Death Grips announced their arrival as a collective entity last year with their amazing free mixtape "Ex- Military." Such a destructive, forward thinking force that seemingly just loomed large out of the blue some time around mid- April was a polarising piece of intensity on an enormous scale, and it's visionary structure and brutality was wholeheartedly unprecendented. It was a barbarous shock to the nervous system that either had the indie hip- hop masses enthralled or covering their ears with Lil' Wayne's "Tha Carter IV" and running off helplessly into the distance, never to return to such dark recesses. It was, you could say, the most experimental and mind bending (if not entirely consistent) hip hop record in years.

Whereas "Ex-military" was an uncontrollable outburst of rage, Death Grips' debut signed effort sees them slip much more comfortably into their bloodthirsty world of brutality and darkness. It's still over- poweringly intense. It still finds ways to confound the senses and all ideas of what a hip- hop album should be like. But it's a much more measured effort, much for confident and comfortable within it's self- crafted world of modern day urban evil, and as a result, is much more consistent and wholesome. Anybody doubting Death Grips' credibility, talent, or that the world they so envisioned on "Exmilitary" even existed will soon be silenced; for this is a wholly convincing doctrine, made even more so by the more composed but cocksure air it carries about itself.

Such a practical and humanistic record must by tackled with sensible strategy, and so the only way to fully grasp the force of "The Money Store" is with a track- by- track analysis. And so here it is, a comprehensive guide to an exercise in ardent brilliance.

01: "Get Got". A skittering, intoxicating opener. The beat is formed from kaleidoscopic, euphoria- drenched synths that are pretty but are turned up to pulverising volume and are epileptically intense. MC Ride's delivery is more controlled and comfortable in his evil persona. He embodies a more clinical and measured type of evil. It's as though having announced his arrival on "Ex- military" he is now relishing in the traits and personality that such an arrival allowed him. It's a surefire announcement of intent, only it's a much more wholesome and solid announcement.

02: "The Fever (Aye Aye)". Zach Hill's drumming sounds absolutely huge on this Gripsian- anthem of the highest order. The hook contained in this song is the first main moment on the money store in which Death Grips experiment with the idea of making what is effectively a Death Grips pop song. The wooping synth melody in the chorus is gorgeous and even the dissonant synth rushes in the verses have a sense of epicness to their cause. Ride is back to his trademark trick of yelling his twat off but he still sounds capably sharp and more comfortable and intelligent than he ever did on "Ex- Military."

03: "Lost Boys". "Lost Boys" has a more mechanical flare to it, encompassing those signature grinding synths as a steady beat push the song along at it's same thrilling pace for its entirety. Ride's vocals battle with the music for space, and for the full affect of this song, the most hard- hitting moment on the record yet, you need to here the patronising violence in his tone as he says "it's such a long way down". It's as though we are falling down to hell and Ride is the devil himself, standing over the gaping hole in the earth's core and laughing.

04. "Blackjack". The first really brutal moment on the album. There's a pulverisingly dark synth riff and pounding beat which evolves as it progrssess, adding in more and more intricacies as it builds. Ride's vocals are shrouded in a mist of reverb and eerily echoing affects that make his vocals ripple and vibrate in alienating fashion. The stop- start motion of the last verse takes the brick- to- skull intensity of the song to its maximum level.

05: "Hustle Bones". A more simple moment, "Hustle Bones" is built around an impeccable hook made up of a looped female vocal segment but within itself contains one of the album's most infectious moments.

06: "I've Seen Footage". If the lead synth line on this stylistic ode to Salt 'n' Peppa's classic "Push It" wasn't so ugly then, "I've Seen footage", a 1991 style banger about police violence, would hardly be saved from being cringeworthy. However, it cements it's place on the album as something Death grips have never really tried before; an old- school party banger, and it does a more than adequate job too.

07. "Double Helix". A fuzzy, minimalistic riff carries this song along with some more life- affirmingly pretty cut 'n' paste female vocal samples and disconcerting chimes. The lyrics and delivery show Ride once again revelling in the violence he raps about, fully taking on the persona he has built for himself over the course of Death Grips' career and endorsing in it fully.

08. "System Blower". Easily the heaviest moment on the album. The riff here is an absolutely unbreakable force and pummels along with the same intensity and similar sound to an overly aggressive dubstep melody. There are scathing interludes of ear- grinding dissonance thrown in for extreme measure, as well as glitchy and fractured but colourful bleeps and patterns. It's a full embodiment of the same kind of burning anger and boundary pushing fire that took up a more than moderate share of "Exmilitary."

09. "The Cage." Intricate percussive techniques and wooping, high- pitched synths are whacked up to brain- numbingly loud volumes on "The Cage", all of which builds into a devastating climax that confirms it's place as the album's most brutal ending.

10. "Punk Weight." This opens up on with a fusion of what sounds like a sample of a funky Asian psych- pop tune and Hill's pummelling drumming before embarking on a typical Death Grips assault on the senses. Flatlander employs the fuzz once again and turns the intensity up, forcing the eardrums into submission just as much as the overstated wailing on "The Cage" did.

11. "Fuck That." This song structures itself more like one of the more minimalistic and experimental moments on "Exmilitary." It's sparse, although the continuously rolling tribal drums, deep and resonating synth squelches and Ride's extreme delivery ensure that the same level of intensity shown throughout the majority of the record is present here.

12. "Bitch Please." Death Grips doing '80s synth worship sounds so ominous that you may very well be tempted to turn away now, but please, stay awhile, for this is another one of those tracks possessing a mighty hook and anthemic quality. It has a slinky and dirty undertow but over the top fly glacial, ice cold but soaring melodies. Ride sounds more ominous and firm about his direction into brutality than at almost any other point on the money store. He reeks of cocksurity and intent as he raps "When the shit goes down I'll be there with my hand on my gun and my eye on the road."

13. "Hacker". This sees the trio trying their hand at full- on, rave distinct mid- '90s sweatbox dance. It's noisy, paranoid and endlessly confrontational, as the booming drums and enormous synths are met by psychotic claims from Ride like "WHEN YOU COME OUT YOUR SHIT IS GONE" and "I'M IN YOUR AREA." A terrifyingly fitting way to end the album, "Hacker" is a full on reminder of just how dangerous Death grips really are and just how much that, in their own idiosyncratic world which, is not unlike ours, you should be wary of people like MC Ride.

Are there any faults? Not really. "The Money Store" doesn't sound or attempt to be an absolute game- changer in the same way that "Exmilitary" certainly sounded like it was an announcement to change and influence the fundamental laws of hip hop, but that is partly it's greatest strength. It's an album that simply tries to be what it is; the sound of a band finding their own space, their own tight, untouchable niche to operate in and maximising their capability to ensure that, within that growing corner of the indie- blogosphere, they excel. And on the strength of "The Money Store", Death grips are entirely untouchable. Is it the best album of all time? Probably not. But you'll have a hard job finding something better than it for the whole of the rest of 2012.

Download: All of it
For Fans Of: Shabazz Palaces, Danny Brown


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