Review Summary: a good (albeit overrated) follow-up to Exmilitary.
I can’t help but posit that Death Grips would be better suited as an instrumental hip-hop band. They have all of the fixings of a great one, too: flawless and innovative production techniques, an acute, almost obsessive attention to detail (this is an incredibly nuanced record), exceptional drumming, etc. I know, for many the allure lies in vocalist Stefan Burnett’s abrasive, berating voice (and let’s face it, he really is quite the eccentric front-man), but I find myself drawn far more to the actual music. Burnett’s presence as an emcee (if we can actually call him that) seems -in part- contrived to me: so fixated on being outward and generally different but ultimately falling short of leaving a memorable imprint. The thing is, I don’t really get
the appeal in that regard, and though I may have talked up their production prowess, the reception The Money Store
has garnered has left me a little befuddled. Critics and fans alike touting this as ‘groundbreaking’ seem to have all but forgotten that, well... this isn’t anything that
new. Sure it’s different, but the idea for this abstract style of hip-hop surrealism can be traced back to the days of cLOUDDEAD, and more aptly compared to artists like Dälek (think Negro Necro Nekros
), except that the ‘rap/rock’ descriptor befitting of Dälek’s brand of music seems loosely tethered when applied to Death Grips. Still, in thinking all of that, I have to concede that there’s something undeniably riveting about this album; something that beckons the listener to press on.
Amidst the cynicism, the grotesque mask strewn about it, and the simultaneously terrifying and curious nature of it all, there’s a ridiculously infectious record here (veiled as it may be). Even though it isn’t the game-changer many would have you believe it is (granted I don’t think it’s trying to be), The Money Store
has a lot to offer. The issue is, its strong suit is also its downfall: that is, the album draws from such a broad spectrum of hip-hop progenitors (Public Enemy, Cannibal Ox, Dälek, etc.) but fails to keep focus. Death Grips are able to yield a new aesthetic meaning from the source material, but The Money Store
is far too scatterbrained for its own good. Every bar is different, which means that it’s never really stagnant, but it also makes it a little inconsistent, especially when some of the quirks don’t stick (the intrusively off-putting vocals of “The Fever”). But when it hits, it’s immensely enjoyable. The distorted riff in “I’ve Seen Footage” and chorus recalls Public Enemy’s “She Watch Channel Zero,” and ends up being one of the more memorable moments on the album, and “Hacker”’s many synthesizers and vocal effects make it the most cohesive and enjoyable song Death Grips have written to date. There’s an undeniably ‘catchy’ element to these songs. Whether you like it or not, Burnett is a master at making a memorable vocal hook.
The Money Store
’s album cover -- stylized as a black and white canvas of what looks like some homage to ‘90s graphic novels (one with a penchant for vintage S&M!) -- is an apt glimpse at the lyrics to be found here: sketchy, disturbing, and morally ambiguous. Through his lyrics, Burnett casts himself as this violently paranoid, unpredictable man; a person whose experience in police brutality and the seedy underbelly of the ghetto has helped fuel his paranoia (“Get Got”). Lyrically, Burnett’s writing should be commended if only because his depiction of this unlikeable, nihilistic character isn’t some typical fallacy of aggression, it seems entirely substantial. It’s contextually brilliant, in fact, but Burnett’s voice sounds best when it’s heavily modulated, otherwise it can be very, very grating -- easily acting to disservice The Money Store
and detracting from some of the more distinguished moments. His style of vocalization wouldn’t necessarily fall under the category of rapping, rather, he takes more of a spoken word approach (I’ll leave those of you who have heard his voice to ponder the irony of that).
In the end, the quality that best sets The Money Store
apart from its contemporaries is its ever-shifting nature. Unfortunately, that same trait also lends to the album’s inconsistent nature, but be that as it may, there’s plenty to take away from the experience. The Money Store
is a visceral album; Burnett’s character is crude, unapologetic, and just a little morbid, and those are some of the best descriptors that come to mind when reflecting on the overall sound. So while it’s not (for this reviewer, at least) the monolithic, quintessential hip-hop album of 2012 that’s - to quote a unified hyperbolic statement - “the future,” it forges something worth hearing.