Irony currently pervades the music scene. This can be attributed to many things such as blog hype or the age of the internet or even facial hair and hard rimmed glasses. Yet the one truth seems to be that the strangest and hardest music to listen to can tend to be some of the most monumental and innovative to the avid music lover. The community of new music followers—now having access to all and every type of music ever recorded— crave new and inventive sounds while shunning the homogenous and retro throwback bands of the day. Catchiness is important, but these people crave the experiences of the generations’ past; listening to seminal artists who can seamlessly hybrid so many genres while creating something original within their music. There is one group today that continues to do this with not only their sound, but as well with their artistic stunts and the internet hype machine that they and their fans have created for them. This group is known as Death Grips and this is a review of their newest and most ambitious record to date, the double album The Powers that B. Their incredible fusion of hip hop, electronic and punk by producer Flatlander and drummer Zach Hill, accompanied by the alienating and guttural rapped/screamed lyrics from their formidable frontman MC Ride, have formed them into what is considered by many to be one of the most important acts in music right now. From surprise album releases and drops, to sexually explicit album covers, to random cancelations of their shows, the group has certainly built up a reputation for the unexpected. Yet the best thing about this new LP is that for Death Grips fans, it is a culmination of all that has been praised and loved from such a hard to love group.
The first half of the record, entitled “N***** on the Moon,” is the more abstract of the two. Sampling vocals from popular Icelandic electronic artist Bjork, Death Grips creates some of their most contrasting songs to date. With the same lyrical intensity and flow coming from MC Ride over these spacey instrumentals, it creates a very surreal effect to the listener. The opening track “Up My Sleeves” gives the listener a sense that Death Grips has many tricks yet left up their…sleeves. Many of the lyrics tend to be as stream of consciousness as the melody changes. The opener sounds almost to be the culmination of multiple track ideas, while the lyrics talk about anger and suicidal thoughts. “Black Quarterback” and “Big Dipper” use the Bjork vocal samples to premium effect and create some of the most instrumentally memorable moments of the album. “**** Me Out” is one of the most direct songs on the first record. Yet it takes an extremely dark and negative view towards the act of coitus with whispered and screamed vocals, while at the same time using the same hyperactive vocal splicing sample style. Some catchy one liners and memorable vocal samples help with this electronically A.D.D. aesthetic that seems to define the first album.
The bigger and most recently released “Jenny Death” is disc two of The Powers that B. This is the album, at least to me, that is the main focus of The Powers that B. This record dropped after they announced that the band had broken up, yet from the closer and official tour announced, that does not seem to be the case. The opener “I Break Mirrors in my Face in the United States” is exactly what it sounds like. A fast paced electronic heavy mosh banger about not caring about real life and injuring your head by breaking mirrors on top of it. It certainly creates the image and sound of the tracks to follow. “Inanimate Sensation,” the lead single of the record, has a semi comical yet surprisingly effective vocal sample. Where the track starts with MC Ride’s voice revving the listener up; literally. Ride sounds like he’s impersonator a race car accelerating. Yet, when Zach Hill’s bass and snare focused beat comes in, the track explodes into what will be a forever known as a classic Death Grips jam. With the chorus “BLOWN OUT, BASS” meant to help keep the build of the song at a certain level of intensity, the lyrics are very detached even by Death Grips standards, and it seems to touch on the fact Ride is less interested in people and what they say and more into his own music and technology. Other tracks take use of a new stand out instrument for the group with a featured stoner metal/punk guitar. “Turned Off”, “Centuries of Damn” and most effectively “On GP” use this guitar to great effect. Death Grips always had a punk attitude but this guitar cements that element. The title track The Powers That B has what’s got to be the heaviest sample they’ve ever used. While Ride talks about existentialism and mindless following “I can’t know what I’m bout to do...I’ve got the powers that be running through me”, Flatlander seems to have mixed every sample he’s ever used to create a loud wall of hard hitting electronics to emphasize this sense of no control. The “Jenny Death” is definitely more focused and almost the opposite sounding record in terms of instrumentation to its predecessor, yet both seem fitting to be in the Death Grips catalogue.
If this double album was supposed to have a huge deeper concept, it is beyond my listening capability, as “N***** On the Moon” and “Jenny Death” are almost polar opposites. One incredibly abstract in terms of lyrics and jarring in terms of samples, the other incredibly focused and refined with some of the most impressive Death Grips tracks to date. In a way, this polarization is the perfect statement for Death Grips. For a band always redefining their sound and themselves, this dichotomy of their music fighting between the abstract and the focused makes “The Powers That B”, if anything, the most fitting record of theirs to date. If you’ve never heard of this band, I recommend the Wikihow article “How to listen to Death Grips,” as they are definitely not everyone’s cup of tea. However, if you’re at all angry at the music industry for producing repeats of artists and sounds, or if you’re angry at the age we live in for its obsessions with technology and its growing anti-socialization, or if you’re just angry at anything and want to break things, pick this record up and give it a listen and let out one of the most basic instincts of mankind; the urge to just let it all out.
Disc 1: Up My Sleeves, Black Quarterback, Big Dipper, Say Hey Kid
Disc 2: I Break Mirrors…, Inanimate Sensation, On GP, The Powers that B
Clipping, Run the Jewels, Hella, Ratking, Swans, Breaking Things, Moshing