Aggressive music kind of reigns supreme right now. I’ve always thought that looking at whatever people are dancing to serves as a pretty failsafe social barometer; if people are feeling something on such a primal level that it makes them want to move, then it’s probably saying something fairly accurate about where our heads are at as a society at any given point in history. Right now, dubstep makes people dance. But what’s always interested me about dubstep is how people so enthusiastically fetishize “the drop”: a moment of rollercoaster-peak ecstasy brought on by an onslaught of violent sonics, specifically relentless, pummeling bass. And everybody loves it. Everybody. The dominant dance craze of our generation – our twist music – sounds like an arcade fire-bombing; the world is ending, but it sounds like the only thing dying is computers. And this is even more terrifying because, let’s be honest, what else matters now?
Death Grips understand this. And that is why Death Grips are going to be huge.
Death Grips are a trio from Sacramento, California that consists of Stefan Burnett aka MC Ride, Andy Morin, and Zach Hill. They make music by stitching together samples of audio ripped from YouTube clips and homemade video recordings which they then warp and layer into aggressive zaps, booms, and other sounds that we don’t have onomatopoeia for yet. Zach Hill – here playing in a style that is comparatively simple to his work with Hella but still brutal as always – then lays down a beat. And when that’s all been done, I imagine they just let Burnett out of his cage, foaming at the mouth while he barks out incoherent non-sequiturs like “LEAVE IT FOR THE HOMELESS TO SLEEP PRODIGAL FUCK THAT NAUTICAL TEACHIN’ BITCHES HOW TO SWIM.” Death Grips have often been labeled as “punk-rap”, but that only feels half-right; you can’t really call what MC Ride does rapping. Instead, Burnett seems more like a vessel through which some feeling is being hardwired directly, funneling pure something with no regard at all for literal meaning. A dusty (but still apt) comparison would be Dylan in his pill period; the words don’t make much straight sense, but you can’t shake the feeling that something is being communicated to you with a very rare level of clarity, even if you’re not sure you have the right word for what that something is. Although, in MC Ride’s case, “rage” might be a safe bet.
The internet has gotten a little hard for Death Grips. It’s not difficult to see why; five seconds into any given track is all anyone needs to realize that this is music that’s very easy for critics and hard-core music geeks to love. Death Grips are abrasive, slightly challenging, and definitely cool, but above all else, Death Grips just sound different. This, combined with the marketing power of a major label (which, miraculously, The Money Store has been released through) ensures for a band, regardless of the quality of their artistic product, that they will be 120% culturally relevant. Hence, the excitement-pee soaked undies of a billion bloggers.
So, Death Grips have been labeled as something to be taken very seriously; liking them is now mandatory. For the next few months at least, they will be a litmus test of coolness. And their shows will be packed wall-to-wall with scrawny nerds just like me pretending to be aggressive and ready to bleed, all too desperate for a shot at proving just how genuinely into it they are, and it will be wasted on every single one of us. Because we shouldn’t be listening to Death Grips; your fourteen-year-old brother should be listening to Death Grips.
Now, that probably doesn’t sound like a compliment, but I honestly don’t think I could bestow a higher one. My point is this: The Money Store is a good album. It’s not a great album with a capital-G, although it can certainly feel like it, and I’m sure many people will declare it to be, if they haven’t already. On some level, it’s probably an Important Album, making some kind of fairly astute commentary on the state of human communication and the degradation of the average attention span. Musically, it can probably be seen as an ultimate end of the futurists’ manifesto. It works very well as Conceptual Music, and in an age where we find ourselves obligated to talk about anything for the sake of feeling as though the greatest tool of communication ever invented by mankind isn’t going to waste for even a single second, Death Grips and The Money Store can certainly give us lots to talk about. But here is the thing that I’m almost sure is going to be oddly overlooked by most: This album? It fucking rocks.
And when I say that it rocks, I mean exactly that: It fucking rocks. It sounds dumb, but think about it: when was the last time you heard music that caused you to actually say that it rocked? I used to say it all the time when I was younger, and it wasn’t until I listened to this album that I realized how long it had been since it felt like just saying that was enough to communicate exactly what I was thinking and feeling about whatever I was listening to.
It was then that I realized who should be listening to Death Grips: me, but six years ago. I’m 19, and I like Death Grips. I like some of their songs a lot. But if me-at-13 had access to “The Fever” after having just gotten grounded by my dad for not taking out the garbage fast enough or something, that shit would have been cranked. On repeat. And then I would have put on some Ride The Lightning and all the fast songs from Nevermind just to keep the rush going. Death Grips are abrasive and interesting and obviously brilliant, but at their core, they’re just really heavy, man. Not in any kind of Icelandic death-metal kind of way, but in the way they make you wanna call shotgun in your friend’s car and make a point of rolling the windows down just so everybody you pass can see you headbang. Even the album cover is begging to be brought home in a backpack, ingeniously hidden from uptight parents, and pulled out only behind closed doors or amongst trustworthy accomplices. You really need to suggest this album to that sullen younger relative that you’re not sure how to talk to. Goddammit, I’m envious of them.
The music just hits in a way that is best enjoyed without jaded inhibition, and “hit” is the right word, I assure you; a song like “Double Helix” sounds like it was designed with the intention of duplicating the woozy feeling that comes from getting a boot to the side of the head. “Get Got”, the album opener, takes off like a spaceship racing through a funk tunnel; “I’ve Seen Footage” actually presents us with what feels like a hook and begins to take the unmistakable shape of an honest-to-god pop song, and it turns out to be a really, really fun pop song at that. This is the Death Grips trick: It’s music that’s meant to disorient and overwhelm, but it grounds itself in a constant, tangible rage and never entirely abandons the language of pop music; this is exactly the kind of stuff that inspires awe in the eyes of introverted barely-teens everywhere who are looking for something undeniably awesome to thrash around in their bedroom to.
Of course, maybe Death Grips don’t want to be thought of as “fun”, and I could totally see that. Maybe we just don’t know enough about them yet, but I have a hard time seeing Stefan Burnett being particularly enthused by a crowd full of awkward, zitty, long-haired kids in Black Sabbath t-shirts and Vans slip-ons. He should be, though; that’s who’s going to love this music the most.
© Justin Santelli, Music Vice
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