Fade In: Death Grips

Noise-rap group Death Grips doesn’t always have the same line-up. That’s probably an important thing to note. They usually consist of rapper MC Ride and drummer Zach Hill. Sometimes, keyboardist Andy Morin is considered a member. Sometimes, it’s a combination, or no one at all. The experimental duo/trio has made waves since their debut mixtape, “Ex-Military,” came out in 2011. Their albums have dabbled in noise, samples, politics, controversy, and all with unlimited energy. In honor of their new supposedly final double album, “the powers that b,” I’m offering the second Fade In Playlist. So for those of you who have heard the name Death Grips but have felt like it’s too late to jump into the game – don’t worry, I’m here to help. Below is a 10 song playlist with the duo’s well-known songs, most riotous acts, and a few deep cuts.

1) “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” Quite possibly the band’s loudest song, although you could make an argument for almost any other one too, the “Government Plates” opener with a Bob Dylan title serves as a proper introduction to the band. With the unsettling synth opener, to MC Ride’s inconsistent vocals, it’s a wild, drippy ride. Fourth album “Plates” suffered from MC Ride getting lost in the mix, and this song is no different, but the beat here is so head-numbing that it doesn’t even matter.

2) “I’ve Seen Footage” Arguably the band’s most famous song, “I’ve Seen Footage” is also one of their most straight-forward tracks. With a guitar line more typical of a punk song, Ride and Hill jump in for a song that’s more rock than anything. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t still volume-pushing. Their sophomore album, “The Money Store,” was the closest they’ve gotten to conventional music. And it wasn’t very close.

3) “Come Up and Get Me” For the band’s third album, “No Love Deep Web,” they returned to a darker sound, albeit a more minimalist one. The album is marked in history as the one with Zach Hill’s erect penis on the cover. You know, that one. Death Grips signed to a major label just to screw them over, accepting a bunch of money for this album and then releasing it early for free. Opener “Come Up and Get Me” is similar to the opener on “Plates,” with a synth beat that almost makes you lose control of your senses.

4) “Black Quarterback” The first half of their supposed final album, “the powers that b,” that officially came out last month, actually came out last June. Titled “n****s on the moon,” it suffered from over-production and music that was too choppy and dense. Bjork samples were on every song, to little effect. But one standout from this album is the only one that heavily features MC Ride. His lone vocals start the song, before getting quickly swept up in a wild mix.

5) “Guillotine” Death Grips first release was the 2011 mixtape “Ex-Military.” It still serves as the most well-rounded example of their music, and possibly their best work. Second track “Guillotine” was the song that put them on the map. It’s a rare Death Grips song that holds back; instead of an aural assault, it comes in metrical bursts. MC Ride’s vocals come in crescendo-ing screams. It’s one of their most playable songs, even if it’s still surprising after 100 listens.

6) “Birds” The closest thing the band has done to a ballad, in the sense that Los Angeles and New York are close relative to the size of the Earth. This “Plates” track starts with a jarring synth rhythm, but gives way to a quieter guitar. This album has been their most experimental to date – it isn’t always in your face, and “Birds” is the best example. It’s a more reserved sound, if not with streaking bits of avant-garde. There’s little rhythm, but it’s a break from the overbearing nature of everything that surrounds it.

7) “Get Got” The third of their more known songs, “Get Got” opened “The Money Store.” It’s a rapid-fire song that’s more melodic than most Grips works. In the years since it’s release, the song has grown tamer, but when the album came out, it was something revolutionary. It’s still a great song, and one of their easiest to throw on at any time.

8) “I Break Mirrors With My Face in the United States” Maybe the most apropos title for a Death Grips song yet, this song opens “jenny death,” disc two of their recent “the powers that b.” This disc is far superior to “ni**as on the moon,” and it shows early. The group works as a collective on the disc, and this track is pure riot. It’s speedy to a fault, with Ride leading the group through a storm with the repeated title phrase. Refreshing to see that they can still put out a track like this.

9) “No Love” “No Love Deep Web” was marked by a more minimalist sound, and on one of the two title tracks, it couldn’t be more apparent – a few times, the music totally gives way to MC Ride’s a capella vocals. And even when there’s music, it’s more subdued than other Death Grips albums. The group plays around with holding back, letting the music hit at certain times instead of full-on. While not my favorite of their albums, it might be the most important in their repertoire.

10) “Blood Creepin'” My personal favorite Death Grips song, this one is also in the running for loudest track. The closer to “Ex-Military” doesn’t hold back with volume. Hill and Morin are in full force themselves, until MC Ride comes in, scream-rapping with vocals that were recorded louder than the usual balance, and name-checking Sonic Youth. This band is almost always in assault mode, but never more than this track. I think it might be the most quintessential Death Grips song – loud, arsonistic, earache-inspiring, and inexplicably melodic.

There’s been bands like Death Grips before. But for what we have right now, they’re the most experimental and controversial performance art group out there. Run the Jewels might be putting out even better albums, but for better or worse, they’re not pulling off the stunts and pure volume that Death Grips are. Thanks for listening, or not, they wouldn’t care and I’ll pretend not to. Death Grips broke up last summer, and never reformed it, so take their current tour and continual album releases as you please. I’m sure “jenny death” isn’t the last we’ll see from them. But we’ve already got more than enough to get angry and punished.

-By Andrew McNally

One thought on “Fade In: Death Grips

  1. Pingback: Fade In Playlist: Wilco | Post-Grad Music Reviews

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