Album Review: Death Grips - 'The Money Store'

5 May 2012 | 3:03 am | Staff Writer
Originally Appeared In

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There have been many labels passed around by people trying to describe Death Grips. Punk rap, noise rap, electronic rap and experimental hip-hop have all been used, and there are some critics who question whether or not their glitchy, wildly progressive aesthetic can even be considered “hip-hop” at all. The talent of the California trio lies in their ability to flaunt the traditional labels that compartmentalise music, ripping apart boundaries to the point where any genre thrown at them is a loose application at best.

On their second full-length effort, it is inevitable that innumerable fans of hip-hop, as well as music enthusiasts in general, will listen to this record with preconceptions of what to expect and rip their headphones off, missing the point entirely. Approaching this album in a conventional way is like trying to gain control of some huge, malfunctioning computer, buzzing, flashing and sparking in front of you while industrial machinery clangs ominously in the background. With ‘The Money Store’, it’s best to just sit back and let everything you know about music slide while you enjoy the fireworks.

As with 2011’s ‘Exmilitary’, ‘The Money Store’s nuclear bombardment of hip-hop’s rulebook takes a two-pronged approach. MC Ride, the sole vocalist of the project, assaults the microphone in the same manner that a serial killer assaults a fresh victim, letting out tales of insatiable bloodlust and graphic, loveless sexual encounters. The cold, animalistic greed that spills from the darkest depths of his consciousness is driven home by the most overstated delivery possible, taking the testosterone machoism of early Wu-Tang Clan and injecting it with the rage virus from 28 Days Later. He shouts in an angry state of drug-soaked paranoia shared by a George Street hobo, partially disguising his lyrics for the purposes of effect.

On tracks like ‘Get Got’ when Ride scrapes away the intensity, the maniac character he portrays comes into full view. He is black-souled and reproachable, but politically conscious and unusually well-worded, using terms like “lycanthrope” that other rappers would never touch and addressing social issues like the CCTV epidemic on ‘I’ve Seen Footage’. The track reveals his talent for hard-hitting punchlines and catchy hooks, working against the unsettling atmosphere that the music creates and providing a foothold for newcomers to latch onto. Songs like the phenomenal ‘Double Helix’ strip the ambience down to bare roots and allow Ride to flex his muscles, showcasing an impossibly fast flow and impressive technical ability. On ‘Blackjack’, his delivery is aided by the exceptional production, overdubbed and manipulated into ghostly, ethereal swirls that provide a panoramic listening experience.

The real sledgehammer blow from Death Grips is dealt by the instrumentation, which rips the rug from beneath any pre-existing notion of what a hip-hop beat should be. Zach Hill and Flatlander helm a style that flaunts the genre’s conventions, favouring sequenced live recordings from Hill’s drum set over artificial percussion. This nod to “live” beatmakers such as The Roots is quickly overturned by the production style, layering sharp, staccato high hat strikes on ‘Get Got’ or off-kilter, phased out rim shots and snare hits on ‘Lost Boys’. When beats like ‘The Fever (Aye Aye)’ manage to fall into line in a conventional, four-to-the-floor pattern, the drum beats spring to life with the energy of a punk rock show, backed up by huge, overmodulated hand clap samples and booming bass hits.

The synthesisers themselves are dark, brooding and abrasive, syphoning out the most confronting aspects of experimental electronic producers like Flying Lotus and filtering them with grinding, industrial overdrive. The Burial-esque garage vocal cuts of ‘Double Helix’ or the malfunctioning clangs, glitches and buzzes of ‘System Blower’ sit on top a bed of rumbling, low-end bass, droning along with vague tonality that borders on dissonance. ‘Get Got’ sees Hill and Flatlander at their most melodic, sequencing rapid, arpeggiating lines that bleed together in the mix. These lo-fi aspects of the album may be seen as inflections to some, but that is the whole point of what the trio are trying to do. What needs to be emphasised about ‘The Money Store’ is that despite being purposefully hard to swallow, it is an exceptional, highly listenable album that deserves the highest praise.

On ‘The Money Store’, Death Grips work hard to cut up and rearrange the laws of hip-hop. Their glitchy, industrialised take on the genre bears influence from experimental electronica producers like Flying Lotus, as well as the socially aware, macho-aggression of hardcore punk. The result is a strange beast of an album that will be very confronting to most, but highly rewarding to those who stick with it.

1. Get Got
2. The Fever (Aye Aye)
3. Lost Boys
4. Blackjack
5. Hustle Bones
6. I’ve Seen Footage
7. Double Helix
8. System Blower
9. The Cage
10. Punk Weight
11. Fuck That
12. Bitch Please
13. Hacker