For a band that’s broken up, Death Grips sure seem to be doing a lot. But then, the Death Grips pageantry has always required a certain degree of disbelief in order to actually understand the motivations underneath their elaborate theatricality. Whether willfully losing record deals, ending lucrative tours, Alternative Reality Games or their distinctively cryptic and cultish disposition, Death Grips have cultivated an image of sporadic chaos that holds a mirror to the startling quality of their music. As much as this theatre might threaten to overshadow the band’s music, it never really does. An innovative mixture of industrial, hip hop, footwork and hardcore Death Grips’ musical cannon is rich with a chopped and screwed visionary experimentalism. Generally, each of their previous releases has continued to preserve this enterprising spirit as Death Grips have tweaked and modified their sound from album to album while still maintaining a certain unique “Death Grips-ness”. As John Peel once said of The Fall “Always different, Always the same”.
While their first three releases were heavy on, well, heaviness, the subsequent releases saw Death Grips emphasize the elements of their sound drawn from electronic music culminating in the prominent use of Bjork samples on last years Niggas on The Moon: The Powers that B disc 1. Although NOTM ventured into interesting sonic territory, it lacked the usual visceral intensity of previous albums, lost among the footwork rhythms and staccato Bjork samples. On Jenny Death (the second part of The Powers that B) Death Grips maintain the menace and aggression of their earlier works largely through revisiting the rockist elements of Ex-Military and Money Store. The most striking shift however, is in the arrangements. Typically eschewing live instrumentation in favor of samples, synths and an electronic drum kit, the songs on Jenny Death feature a heavily clipped guitar and acoustic drum set. Songs like “Why a Bitch Gotta Lie” or “Beyond Alive” apply hardcore indebted venom to their sliced up robo-grind. Perhaps this shift in musical direction is a reaction to the lukewarm reaction to NOTM, but it shouldn’t be thought of as a formulaic return. Drummer Zach Hill has spoken of trying to capture “future primitivism” in his music, and it’s not to imagine a fracture in time as forward looking electronics clash and shudder next to the more traditional sections of Jenny Death.
The music here doesn’t carry you away, but rather beats you to the ground with an assault to the senses. As always the ever-present malevolence of MC Ride’s harrowing vocals, matched with lyrics that evoke dark and violent imagery seem to bludgeon the listener into submission. Ride often depicts himself as a godlike figure, and the Death Grips god is an angry god. On “Powers that B” Ride equates himself with the all kinds of earthly and alien powers, he’s what the fuck happens when shit happens. Equating himself to a figure of omnipotent power, Ride embraces being an otherworldly figure to escape the current realities of our world. Death Grips have embraced a certain thrill of nihilistic violence, and when Ride screams, “I don’t care about real life” you wonder if he cares about any life at all. On “Why a Bitch Gotta Lie”, Ride is practically frothing at the mouth venting his rage at some perceived traitor, as synths wail with an air siren derived urgency, his vocoder treated voice coming across as a punk rock Skynet.
For all their outwardly directed rage, it was only a matter of time before it would become directed inward, as “On GP” demonstrates. An evocative contemplation of suicide, “On GP” exposes weakness and doubt in a way that has rarely ever been explored on previous albums. Over an ominous descending guitar line, Ride describes his own battles with suicidal contemplation, the manifestation of death itself giving him it’s blessing. The song’s characteristically schizoid arrangement juxtaposes raging hardcore with slower funeral organ passages, is an emotional rollercoaster that exposes the more human side of MC Ride. Surprisingly tender, and uniquely raw “On GP” exemplifies the kind of abrupt and dramatic shifts that make Death Grips such captivating artists.
Reflecting a world of ubiquitous information and yet also increased surveillance and distrust Death Grips have always managed to evoke a sense of psychosis and threat. The view of the world from Jenny Death with it’s demons and violence makes it sound almost appealing to stay turned off, but Death Grips make clear that the real thrill is in staying #noided. After all, just because you’re paranoid, doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you.