Review Summary: Not my Death Grips!
I will forego the usual introduction to the band - if you haven't heard Death Grips before you should start at the start, with Exmilitary, if you have heard Death Grips before you already probably have a strong idea of how this album will sound. You're almost certainly wrong though, this album is unlike anything the trio have ever released before. Whereas Stefan 'MC Ride' Burnett previously had the spotlight, Andy 'Flatlander' Morin is now front and center.
The first track - the fantastically named "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" - features the strong vocal focus and harsh electronica (so harsh it is often mislabeled as dubstep) that characterized 2012's 'No Love Deep Web'. The similarity is so strong that the track has been speculated to be one of the 7 tracks cut from the original hefty 20 track version before release in 2012. This track mainly serves to emphasize the contrast between Government Plates and the other Death Grips releases however it also serves to introduce the theme of this album - ego death. Lines such as "I die in the process / You die in the process" and "Hollow shell twitch disconnection / Pupils swell" help us to understand and empathize with the nihilistic character of the MC Ride (this nihilism is most obvious in Death Grips' interview with Pitchfork). This lyrical theme is strong throughout the album, even the last track "Whatever I want (*** who's watching) contains the lyric "Heard you claim we've met before / Always forget who they are".
Track two, Anne Bonny serves to further remind us of previous Death Grips albums, this song vocally and lyrically would fit perfectly on 'The Money Store' and musically would work on 'No Love Deep Web'. By Track three, Two Heavens, Government Plates new direction starts to become more clear. There are only 17 unique lines in this song. Death Grips' catchy hooks are nowhere to be found. For some this will take some getting used to but anyone with an open mind should be able to appreciate this new sound. Death Grips harsh electronica is at some points replaced with long, semi-ambient sounds and MC Ride's vocals are often contorted and warped. Much like My Bloody Valentine
's "Loveless" the lyrical content starts to become secondary to the sound that the vocals make. Even on the more lyrically driven sections of the song things are very different, the lyric "Pushing down on the pillow 'till I can't hear you breathing / for no reason" is vocally very different from the usual abrasive stylings of MC Ride.
The majority of the album after this is a barrage of lyrically minimal songs, 'This is Violence Now' & 'I'm Overflow' contain only three unique lines, 'Feels like a Wheel' contains only two. These songs have a more atmospheric quality to them, the vocals are chopped up and modified in such a way that there are little to no lyrical passages in the song. The songs sound like some of the tracks off of Boards of Canada
's Music Has the Right to Children, only with the angry aesthetic that is expected of Death Grips.
The barrage of sound oriented tracks is interrupted by Birds, possibly the most lyrically complex song Death Grips have released. The lyrics here use abstract imagery as well as other language techniques to give a poetic quality to the song. The meaning is obscured and open to multiple interpretations and the cryptic way that the song is written means that every interpretation is valid. Some people like to interpret the song as MC Ride talking about women, however I think that the idea of birds representing freedom in the song makes much more sense and ties better into the theme of the album.
The final track, "Whatever I want (*** who's watching)" is a beautiful 7 minute ending to the album that ties everything together. Zach Hill's drumming lends a sense of urgency to the lyrically driven sections of the song and the lyrics themselves contain references to dualism which tie back into the theme of ego death. Flatlander's long sounds leave you with a cathartic feeling after you finish the album. The track ends with two minutes containing no lyrics, just Flatlander's beautiful electronic sounds, zach hill's slow drumming and Ride's contorted shouts.