There’s something weird about our relationship with pranksters, be it Sacha Baron Cohen or Banksy, we appreciate their art as much as we do the schadenfreude generated from watching others become unsuspecting victims to, well, their art. Death Grips, in their total lack of giving a flying f*ck, are the musical equivalent of this – they misbehave outwardly towards not just their former record label, but their audience as well… a cardinal sin when it comes to the music world. When not releasing their album for free and putting a penis as its cover, MC Ride and Zach Hill are dicks to their fans by not showing up for a show in the name of artistic expression. It’s not all punk rock and anarchy with these guys though, their output remains as consistent as ever – released on the internet for free again, fourth album Government Plates came out of nowhere to the demand of no one.
Not unlike their previous releases, the album is a collection of abrasive doom rap tracks that are so amorphous, melodically you could never guess where it’d go next. The band’s only constant all this time had been MC Ride’s bark-like raps in all its arrhythmic glory, but after 4 albums of math rock drummer Zach Hill’s noise making and producer Andy Morin’s dissonant approach to sound, we think they’re slowly letting the audience in on something. Their anarchic chicanery extends to their music as well!
Sure, the band’s brand of anarcho noise punk rap (we just came up with that) is still of great interest to our ears – it’s belligerent with indignation and political fervour, like the best of punk and hardcore. Yet after some digestive period of listening to Government Plates, we can’t help but catch on to something like a self-aware joke amidst it all, Death Grips might not be that self-serious of a band after all. The first hint of this was the opening number’s impossibly long title, ‘You may think he loves you for your money but I know what he really loves you for it’s your brand new leopard skin pillbox hat’, a song whose name references Bob Dylan but has nothing to do with the legend in any way at all. Instead, the track inaugurates the sonic audacity that is Death Grips with the sound of glass shattering, from then on it’s all squalls of dissonant electronics and crashing drums, to which MC Ride barks non sequitur phrases like “freelance mother*cker!” over.
Turns out Death Grips are a bunch of Dadaists. This is the most apparent on the album’s centrepiece, ‘Birds’, a track that is equal parts tranquil (by the band’s standard) and chaotic. Here MC Ride’s lyrical content is pure id – similar to Kanye West, whose last album was coincidentally Death Grips-inspired – despite its vague avian metaphor. Ride, uncharacteristically calm on the track, raps stream of the consciousness street vagrant poetry – referencing anything from (fittingly) Charles Bukowski’s bluebird to some f*cked up sexual imagery in the second verse. It’s also amazingly the album’s most accessible track.
Elsewhere, the band attempts an instrumental with ‘Feels like a wheel’, sounding like a savage end of the world Hi-NRG rave, while the coda of end track ‘Whatever I want (F*ck who’s watching)’ bookends Government Plates on a drone note, the only obvious beauty on the album. In between all of these are songs that are designed to stimulate reaction from unsuspecting listeners – the kind that begins as bemusement or chagrin from its targets (as is the case with other pranksters with intent) before evolving into some kind of understanding from spectators. While 4 albums of exactly that might lead to stagnation – at some point even the audacious starts to sound the same – Death Grips’ seemingly unrelenting quest to provoke might just make them the most important music act in the independent scene.
After all, this is still the only band that can make fans of loud music complain that the music is too loud.
LISTEN TO: ‘Birds’
IF YOU LIKE THIS YOU’LL DIG: No other act sounds like Death Grips
1. You may think he loves you for your money but I know what he really loves you for it’s your brand new leopard skin pillbox hat
2. Anne Bonny
3. Two Heavens
4. This Is Violence Now (Dont get me wrong)
6. Feels like a wheel
7. Im Overflow
8. Big House
9. Government Plates
10. Bootleg (Dont need your help)
11. Whatever I Want (F*ck who’s watching)