Review Summary: Death Grips firmly display their staying power.
This Sacramento hip-hop outfit has never been one for understatement. The relentless charisma of frontman MC Ride (Stefan Burnett), coupled with his like-minded flow and sheer ferocity of delivery, could adequately carry any musical project on its sole merit. What separates Death Grips, at least in my judgment, from other hip-hop acts featuring remarkable MC's, however, is the foundation upon which MC Ride is able to stand and detonate his ultra-violent, unnerving, and attention-commanding lyrics. Drummer (yes, the drum beats are all organic) Zach Hill, previously known for his commanding work in math rock band Hella, is no slouch, to say the least. Hill's laser-precise syncopation adds a great deal to MC Ride's uncontrollable aura and the unmistakable aural identity of Death Grips. The third vital piece of the trio, producer Andy Morin (also known as 'Flatlander') is one that is all too oft forgotten, if even known. The refreshing samples found on Death Grip's eponymous EP and Exmilitary
boasted a library that includes Nancy Sinatra, Pet Shop Boys, Pink Floyd, Black Flag, Link Wray, Bad Brains, and David Bowie, all of which are Flatlander's doing (it was hearing "Rumble" sampled in "Spread Eagle Cross the Block" that turned me on to this group in the first place). And it was this utterly unique synthesis of raw energy, virtuosity, and musical cosmopolitanism that spawned Death Grips and all of the hype following their 2011 releases.
But, one year (and one masturbatory introductory paragraph) later, do Death Grips still matter?
[For the sake of length, I have included The Money Store
in my response to this question only by way of allusions.]
Like the group to which it is attributed, No Love Deep Web
has not come quietly by any means. The ominously sparse squares of paper included with vinyl copies of The Money Store
gave the first intimations of an upcoming Death Grips release. The alternate reality game revealed a (now defunct) release date, drumming up more suspense and intrigue at the close of the summer. And then, in a deafening crescendo of incredulity and excitement, No Love Deep Web was voluntarily leaked to the public (Epic Records, the band's alleged label, being included in that group). Before even considering the music within, No Love Deep Web feels
like a Death Grips album. Its release had much of the punk rawk "*** buyin' it; I'm takin' it" bravado, a constant in their body of work and a recurring theme in underground hip-hop in the age of the internet, in their outright defiance of their label and reaching directly to the listener. There is no feeling that Death Grips have been consumed by a major label. No Love Deep Web
feels just as authentic and honest as any Death Grips release before it.
This maintenance of character is immediately apparent at the album's open with "Come up and get me." Fat synths pulse and throb without mercy, MC Ride's delivery reaches terrifying pitches, all very much reminiscent of The Money Store
's more digital methods of achieving that signature Death Grips brand of aggression. Death Grips are here, there is no doubting that. The towering, swirling synths on "No Love," coupled with Hill's airtight drum beats, contribute to the undeniable Money Store feel on No Love Deep Web
. The dry, icy synths (not to mention those same electronic tom-toms previously found on "Get Got") on "Black Dice" add yet another layer to sonic similarities between No Love Deep Web
and The Money Store
. Most, if not all, of the tracks, in fact, bear at least a few aural similarities to those found on The Money Store
, with special respect to synths and drums. Money Store, Money Store, Money Store.
That being said, however, No Love Deep Web
is not a rehashing of The Money Store
by any means. Where this is most immediately apparent is in Flatlander's assumed production style. The vocal production on tracks like "World of Dogs," "Lock your doors," "Bass rattle stars out the sky," and "Artificial death in the west" and synth production on "Lil Boy," "Whammy," and "Pop" is (dare I say it?) ethereal, sounding more like the disturbingly ambient aura typical of Death Grips' West Coast fellows Shabazz Palaces than the three-inches-from-your-ear sound of Exmilitary
or the EP. Though it may be a bit far-reaching to compare this album so directly to Black Up
, musical progression is undeniably present. Flatlander shines on No Love Deep Web
, showing that Death Grips are more than an emaciated man with Rick Ross-esque hair distribution barking threats.
On that note, MC Ride shows progression as well. Although No Love Deep Web
is still rife with his booming, authoritative, and violent bellows, he allows cracks to form in this stone cold persona. On the album's opening track MC Ride paints a picture of himself at the end of his sanity, contemplating suicide as release (if he's still alive at all):
"Street or nosedive to the next life in seconds,
and suicide ain't my stallion,
So I'm surrounded
Come up and get me."
"Can't tell in my head
Thirteenth bell, am I dead?
Or in asylum, pill force fed?
Lyin' to myself all by myself,
Strapped down to my bed.
Tongue cut out the mouth of reason
And chucked off the river’s edge..."
All through these very bleak and helpless verses and choruses MC Ride's delivery is similarly helpless and maniacal, punctuating each line with cracks and wavers of voice that are almost pitiful, modes of emotional expression that seem rare in hip-hop.
All progressions aside, this is still very much a Death Grips album. It’s not likely that there has been enough alteration to win over the naysayers, and that is perfectly fine. Those who are fans of the group’s previous efforts will likely find that, where The Money Store
displayed that Death Grips could utilize more than guitars in the creation of their sound and more than pure vocal volume in the conveying of their message, No Love Deep Web
shows a band that no longer needs to support itself by virtue of its previous releases. The evolution from guitar to synthesizer, from wordless expressions to expressive words, from hyped to heavyweight, have all been completed. Death Grips are here to stay. And they're still going hard. Full on hard.