Photographs by Bryan Sheffield

Photographs by Bryan Sheffield

MC Ride, Flatlander and Zach Hill wished us a very Merry Christmas in their usual, gritty-as-sandpaper-against-your-eardrums Death Grips way. Of course, this means that hip hop’s most instantly recognizable sound returned as a total surprise, screaming and clanging its way into the world, begging to be heard within minutes of the release of Government Plates on November 13, 2013. Death Grips seemingly exist in a hellish void, absent from any easily recognizable influences or contemporaries. Government Plates reaches extremes and pulls it off with aplomb. Assaultive rhythms and wrathful vocals inflict maximum damage, whilst its “softer” tracks run frantic circles around the eardrums at light speed.

Government Plates opens with, “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.” Dylan references aside, Death Grips plunges straight into familiar territory, “My entrance, hijacked no questions asked, stretch you on like latex mask.” The stream of consciousness darkness of MC Ride is business as usual here, remaining as powerful as ever. Flatlander threatens to swallow everything around him with alternately buzzing and biting synthesizers. This is the Death Grips formula working exactly as it should. Later, “This Is Violence Now” chops up every distinguishable sound into a soup of noise before slimming it down to bare bones in the middle of the track. Between Flatlander and Zach Hill’s performances here, the song evokes the image of Aphex Twin playing in a ’90s London nightclub.

“Birds”, the track the band released in August 2013, returns he re, unchanged. Tinny, chainsaw synths and simple percussion underscore MC Ride’s strangely circular, childlike lyrics. It is perhaps the most vulnerable we will see Death Grips. Truthfully, how much more direct can one be than, “I’ve got a bluebird, it might die, it got wetted, I stayed dry”? The track alternates between ear-splitting insect synths with MC Ride’s roar, and twinkling tones with a pleading, unstable toddler. This experiment in extreme duality within a track is a success here, where the softer sections are not tedious, as tension builds waiting for the signature MC Ride explosion.

The second half of Government Plates enters some strange territory for Death Grips. The digital, buzzing jackhammer remains at times, but it is surrounded by far less overtly aggressive sound. “Bootleg” features some extremely organic percussion and vocal loops. In fact, MC Ride is strangely absent from much of the second half of tracks. Suddenly, with “Whatever I Want (Fuck Who’s Watching)”, Death Grips makes sense of their strange, buzzing chillwave-esque experiment over the previous twenty minutes. This track perfectly melds the Death Grips known to us — the band unafraid to take us to their darkest moments — and the Death Grips that is writing songs like “Big House” and “Bootleg”. There is ample room for pretty sound in hell, apparently.

Government Plates may be remembered as the LP wherein Death Grips took a massive left turn. They may return to their business as usual aggressive, experimental noise hip-hop in the future. However, Government Plates may be remembered as the moment when Death Grips took its avid listeners on a more subtle path through their skewed view of a psychotic society. The personality of this album noticeably changes before combining its vulnerability and its rampant hostility. Herein, Death Grips takes us by surprise on their most crucial release since their debut mixtape Exmilitary.


— , December 31, 2013    1 Comment

I admire the creativity in this, but it’s a little challenging to listen to. Definitely not used to that, it’s like listening to a horror movie.

Benjamin Dara, January 10, 2014