Monday, March 30, 2015

Death Grips - The Powers That B Review

The rush of sensations that filled Death Grips fans this past year was the equivalent of a tortuous roller coaster of hopeful ups with impending drops, and dreadful lows with sudden stops. Trolling, jokes, and rumors slid through every forum as the band's elusive nature sent fans into frenzies as farces were bordered up left and right. Retirements, cancellations, and instrumental tapes spelling out the over aching meme "Jenny Death When" were just some of the highlights, or lowlights depending on how you see it. The wild ride didn't, as many ignorantly expected, stop at the completed release of The Powers That B, as a worldwide tour reveal and an announcement that they "might make more music" continues the BDSM-style torture Death Grips fans willfully endure. But for now, as has always been the case, the focus is on the music. Jenny Death has arrived to parallel her predecessor, and the completed project couldn't have been more masterfully accomplished. With one hand on the past and another on the future, The Powers That B aims at tackling some of humanities most poorly handled emotions. Death Grips' latest is a relentless force of energy, compassion, and feeling collectively smashed into some of music's most forward-thinking sounds.

Despite being a double album, The Powers That B couldn't be more drastically paradoxical, as each half takes exceedingly opposing steps to distance itself from its pairing. While their intentions may never be revealed, my reasoning for this is that the record aims at showing Death Grips' two distinct halves, the Electronic glitch-centric Hip-Hop on Niggas On The Moon, and the acid-laced Rock and Metal on Jenny Death. Rather than attempt to puree them together, best seen on NO LOVE DEEP WEB, the group aims at masterfully executing each sound, with varying effect. Down to the nuances each piece feels nothing like the other, like Niggas' continuously flowing songs found nowhere on Jenny or MC Ride's lyrics, containing no semblance with one another other than some slight of hand references. In reality one could review each side on their own and have no qualms, but for the purpose of maintaining the groups artistic merits I'm doing them together. On each side though the one man upholding the known insanity is Ride, choosing to focus on complex integrations of paranoia, anxiety, and regret on Niggas, while relegating to predatory attacks on others while also looking at himself suicidally on Jenny.

Focusing on the first half, the group's claustrophobic use of agitated synths and choppy Bjork samples amplifies the ongoing descent into madness Ride employs. No better song displays this than 'Up My Sleeves' and its chaotically nerve-wrecking sonic structure, starting with the alarming repetition of its title followed by a drop that pulverizes ears, numbing the body to its primordial form. The tension in Ride's lines, especially when he focuses on his mom's death, are pivotal points in understanding the emcee, as these moments of clarity do not come by very often. 'Billy Not Really' enforces this same technique, where Ride details an encounter with a medium who flees him when she sees what's written on his palms. 'Say Hey Kid' takes a eery Ride monotonically expressing his thoughts on the crude nature of 'normals' in society, and their demeaning presence over those that outcast themselves, with stunning sincerity. His lyrics here are some of Death Grips' finest and most unique, adding new perspectives to the character who attempts to remain as masked as possible. Even though there remains 'Fuck Me Out' and 'Have A Sad Cum, BB' which, as expected, are explicitly sexualized and dripping with banality, Death Grips remains entirely aware of the tracks' regurgitating nature, choosing to ignore it in sacrifice of Ride's grotesque persona. 

Possibly more enveloping than Ride are the sounds he's prominently exposed on. While Death Grips certainly has an aesthetic that makes their music noticeable, each release amplifies things with a bevy of new sounds, with Niggas standing atop the totem pole of most experimental. Nothing feels safe here, moments leak into one another just as much as they smash into brick walls. 'Say Hey Kid,' a standout in the same right as 'Birds' on their previous release, follows a lonely metronome scared of Ride's tenacity before an escalated wail contends with him in the chorus. 'Big Dipper' features an elongated electronic malfunction with Bjork that mimics a Jazz freestyle but with far more oft-putting instrumentation. And yet, with all this intense experimentation Niggas somehow, as I question with every Death Grips release, becomes a tour-de-force in catchy beats and choruses, a feat no other band making this magnitude of music can attest to. The addition of a linear, looping album structure makes the first half of The Powers That B a suffocating release where not one break, even by Death Grips standards, can be had, a heedless 31 minutes that leave listeners in a state of stunning disarray.

Upon the flip to Jenny, with 'Big Dipper' only bowing for a second before 'I Break Mirrors' erupts into a ball of flame, comes a change in style but not tone. Everything here sonically adheres to the 'take it to 11' philosophy of Death Grips, but for the first time the sounds mimic a time long since past. It's actually quite perplexing when, upon first listen, the sounds of 'Turned Off's' opening and 'Centuries Of Damn,' amongst others, carry the weight of a revolutionizing Rock N' Roll anthem from the 80's. Other releases either progressed a sound or created a new one, and while these tracks are definitively Death Grips, some, without Ride vocalizing atop them, would make close arguments to the contrary. In most cases, like on 'On GP,' the new sonic adventure is welcomed. There are times here when the sounds of Death Grips are obvious, best seen a multitude of times on 'Inanimate Sensation,' where the sound consistently 'Ditto's' itself nearly as much as Ride morphs his own voice, both working in unison to create a visceral experience. Also, for all the shock Death Grips fans have received over the years few could compare to 'Why A Bitch Gotta Lie's' robotic romp, hinted at with a Ride holler that shreds through a computer generator. Verses are hardly ever catchier than their choruses, but those robot effects are too nauseatingly cool to avoid. 

As is the case with each Death Grips release, the numbing, love-less sexualization arrives in the form of a few tracks, lyrical inept but capable of a mindless blitzkrieg. Where Jenny Death takes a departure though is when Ride gets ostensibly serious. Whereas Niggas throws listeners into a litany of different directions, Ride's lyrics, apart from these aforementioned tracks, are condensed with a weighty realness never before heard. Sure, they make maddening songs about sickening footage and guillotines, but here Ride explicitly contemplates his own death, numerous times. Take the penultimate 'On GP,' where Ride confronts his rapid fans instigating his slow demise, coming face to face with death on his doorstep at 3 am. It's so personal, so exposed, the interluding Shoegaze mimicking a funeral only advancing the flesh wounds Ride's allowing us to see. 'Beyond Alive,' while sonically tame compared to Death Grips' catalogue, sees our lead eager and willing to meet a life beyond Earth where he feels he's stuck around creatures less than him. He really is the beast he worships. With 'Death Grips 2.0,' arguably the entire outfits worst track, leading us out instrumentally through a barrage of jutting electric synths without the accompaniment of Ride it's interesting to ponder where they go next, if they go somewhere at all. 

Bringing these two monstrosities back together we see the completed template of Death Grips' work. Sonically clustered as it is composed, lyrically vague as it is emotional, it's this classic paradigm that allows Death Grips' music to function within its boundaries, leaving room to push them with robotic voices, uncomfortable whispers, and Bjork. Months down the road fans will still be bickering over which half is better, and while I personally side with Niggas On The Moon, I'd completely understand the warrant to having Jenny Death take the crown. They may not form a cohesive piece, but it's their differences that conjoins, the element of surprise a constant factor in their music, a rehashing of Niggas just wouldn't make sense. Apart from some less than stellar tracks on each, The Powers That B is a masterstroke in creating one's sound so thoroughly that, for the first time with an artist, especially in Hip-Hop, the unexpected has become the expected. For the first time in their career Death Grips is at a pinnacle, contemplating stepping down whilst on top or pushing forward into 2.0 territory with the hope of fueling the spark they've held on to for so long. If their latest is any indication, none of us plan on getting off this ride anytime soon. 


  1. epic score xD love your reviews on rateyourmeme xddddd

  2. I don't think you could get more meme-filled if you tried. In that regard, I applaud your dedication!