Death Grips: The Powers That B
2015, Experimental Hip-Hop
California hip-hop trio Death Grips have released a consistent barrage of uniquely crafted albums since their formation in 2010. Often released unbeknownst to fans, and combined with cryptic visual imagery, describing the project as a whole can be summed up as unpredictable. Their erratic musical exploration and antics have frustrated fans and even their formal label Epic records, but they continue to grow in fan base and gain recognition. Death Grips’ new double album provides a lengthy extension to the strangeness and appeal to the group’s sonic adventures and experimentation to defy genre and convention.
Split into two discs titled Niggas on the Moon and Jenny Death, the group displays two different sides of their creative sensibilities towards electronic production and song structure. Although wholly original in their style, the two discs differ drastically in vibe. Niggas on the Moon is produced almost entirely of Bjork vocal samples played by drummer Zach Hill that act as a rhythmic pulse to the yelling and spoken words of Mc Ride. This minimalist approach is contrasted with a heavy synth and guitar influence that sound more punk rock in Jenny Death. Both discs are noisy, loud, abrasive and what was described earlier: unpredictable.
Convention is completely thrown out the window. The first half is often difficult to pinpoint an exact moment when a song ends and another begins. Instead, the group weaves in out of constant tempo changes that are so drastic and jarring, it feels like it must be listened to as a whole instead of a song-to-song basis. This may be frustrating for listeners who expect a solid pocket to bop along, but as expected with Death Grips, especially Zach Hill’s sporadic drumming capabilities, the madness and inconsistency is exciting and drives hard.
Jenny Death takes a huge stylistic leap towards much more straight-forward song structures, but maintains a sense that something can change in a single moment. Raw drumming and heavy guitar in tracks like “Turned Off,” “Beyond Alive,” and “On Gp” feel fresh amongst the electro vibes and programmed beats, and such a change in style reminds us of Zach Hill’s earlier projects like Hella, Bygones, or even his solo albums of hard hitting drumming and intense power.
Amongst the creative instrumentals is Mc Ride, the frontman with probably the group’s most signature aspect and driving force; his voice. If anything showcases the style of Ride’s vocal delivery and lyricism, it’s definitely in this double album. His frantic shouting sounds incredibly gritty and dangerous in ways that you can hear the hysteria and menace behind the personality. The track “Inanimate Sensation” provides a glimpse into the this personality.
My smoke, my butane
My boots, my headphones, my medicated noose
My deadroom, my schwartzwald hat, my Mac
My macaque skull, my lysergic stash
Empty streets at night, my bike
Apartment sink filled with dry ice
Condemned tenement, brandished rail spike
Cynical of societal norms and mysterious in metaphor, Ride carries The Powers That B into a frenzy of powerfully driving early punk vocal patterns and laid-back spoken word passages that create tension and remain the lasting impression.
The Powers That B showcase Death Grips’ increasing range and ability to have fans questioning what’s next. In the meantime, their North American tour starting in June will be something to catch. StepOn will be there at the Danforth Music Hall July 3rd in Toronto.
Alex Gougeon is a Toronto-Based freelance Writer, Musician and Videographer who loves everything Film and Music.