By: Tommy Walzer
Over the past several years, Death Grips haven’t failed to awe me with their music. Now, before reading this review I ask you to excuse the super fan in me, as I feel I’m channeling my inner Fantano with my take on their latest work, the double album The Powers That B. Regardless of your familiarity of the group, allow me to preface this by saying this: Death Grips have challenged, and always will challenge us with their music. Deploying harsh, blood-curdling yells and screams (courtesy of MC Ride), and crushing industrial beats (courtesy of Zach Hill and Andy Morin), Death Grips make their genre defying aesthetic to the next and most comprehensive level on The Powers That B.
Powers’ first album, Ni**as on the Moon, was released last June. Constructed around Bjork samples, it takes on a more electronic, deep-web vibe. The Icelandic star’s exotic warble clashes with glitchy beats that seem to skip and drop all over the place. It’s certainly a novel concept, and a surprising yet familiar pairing (Death Grips had previously remixed two Bjork tracks, “Sacrifice” and “Thunderbolt”). The album begins with “Up My Sleeves,” which is ushered in with MC Ride chanting the song’s title over and over until it suddenly erupts into a lukewarm electronic buzz. Between Ride’s usual brash delivery, his questioning of life’s significance (“If I’m so necessary / blank blank obituary / that Broadway cemetery”), and a spine-chilling Bjork cackle, this track definitely puts me in the right state of mind for the rest of the experience. There are linear sections of each track, but the overall musical direction on Ni**as on the Moon is a sort of beautiful chaos, which is perhaps an ode to Bjork.
Playful in structure, the music lives and breathes in a unique way that could only be facilitated by a group like Death Grips. MC Ride serves up cryptic messages with a roller coaster delivery. “Xeroxed man dressed in gauze/Spider silk and menopause,” he forcefully chants on “Black Quarterback” before enunciating the next verse syllable for syllable. At times it sounds like he’s casting a witch’s spell, at other times it sounds like new wave poetry. While the sampling on this album is ambitious, the sound does get a bit stale halfway through, and my attention starts to wane. But then again a slightly boring Death Grips album is still on par with an exciting album by anyone who’s not Death Grips. I definitely applaud the creative direction with Ni**as on the Moon, as it only goes to show that Death Grips can turn down any musical avenue and bring the ruckus.
After much speculation and a steady leak of singles, Jenny Death, the second installment of The Powers That B, has made its way to the internet and boy does it set the bar to new heights. Through 10 tracks, Jenny Death is a delightful brew of nearly every style of music Death Grips have ever flirted with. Coming in hot, and with the same suddenness and sharpness as Government Plates’ “You might 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” (yes that is what it’s called), “I Break Mirrors With My Face In The United States” is a strong opening statement to the album. But really, every song on here is a statement. MC Ride is at his most honest and in-your-face, spewing out raps about chain-smoking cigarettes (“Turned Off”), pissing on one’s face (“Pss Pss”) and suicidal tendencies (“On GP”). The latter is hands down my favorite on this album. It’s almost a ballad of sorts, chugging along with foot stomping guitars, drum kit fireworks from Zach Hill, and even an organ. But lyrically it’s Ride’s darkest hour, as he goes into the anxious feeling of embracing, well….death’s grip you might say. Or maybe it’s just that he wants a permanent escape from reality; “Can’t fuck with the physical world / Cause I comply with the powers that b!” he yells on the title track. Every mantra, every metaphor, subscribes to a higher level of dark surrealism. It’s something that’s true with all their music, but in these tracks, it’s personal. Which leads me to what is perhaps the most profound connection between the two parts of the whole, which is a reimagining and fantasy of the self.
Instrumentally, Jenny is highlighted by the hand-splitting percussion of Hill, who on this album channels traditional hard rock, punk, and hardcore styles. This goes great with the live guitars on several tracks, such as “Beyond Alive.” It seems that with this LP, Death Grips have just about found the right formula for real instrumentation. It’s “Death Grips 2.0,” as the closing track suggests. But it’s also Death Grips of old, as that and “Pss Pss” (probably didn’t make The Money Store) make the case for. To me Jenny Death and NOTM complement each other well in that they give a diverse look at the trio’s sound over five albums.
I urge you to comply with The Powers That B today.