Review Summary: While I do think this is a more interesting and experimental album than "I've always been good at true love" it doesn't quite come together as an equally coherent and focused LP. I appreciate the risks that were taken, but the execution isn't always solid
In 2015 Zach Hill and Andy Morin temporarily broke away from the prolific Death Grips release cycle to form a side project by the name of the i.l.y's. Zach almost completely traded his boards for a microphone and live instrumentation, and opted to take things in a more Noise Rock centered direction. For me their debut LP "I've always been good at true love" was too tame. I was hoping for something more explosive and explorative (as prominently displayed on numerous Death Grips releases), but instead the duo delivered a series of standard Noise Rock jams without taking any risks. I can't write any additional preamble diving into what my hopes and expectations for this new album were, because I had none. Similar to their debut the i.l.y's took part in absolutely zero build-up to this new LP "scum with boundaries". So the most I can say is I was hoping for something good and more interesting than their debut. Is that what I got?
Well. Yes and no. This project is definitely more varied and ambitious than "I've always been good at true love", but it's somewhat of a mixed bag. The first track "Disastrous Looks" took all preconceived notions I had going in and threw them out the window. It begins with a midi-piano riff that then fades into a set of eclectic synthetic drums and eerie ethereal synth chords. I could tell immediately that this wasn't another straightforward Noise Rock LP. But a few red flags were raised from the get-go. The aforementioned keys sound way too polished, carry no weight and create a very lackluster base for the rest of the instrumentation to pile onto. And Zach's drab vocal performance doesn't do much to add any authentic atmosphere. As a whole I'm not crazy about what Zach brought to the table vocally on this album, and it's strange because I thought he held his own very well on the debut. But unfortunately he chose to bury his vocals so low in the mix, and under the instrumentation, that it sucks out all of the power from his presence (especially with the phaser effects he coated them in). So on songs like "Stop Yelling in the Museum" and "I'm Gonna Have Sex" when he tries tapping into a more abrasive cadence it comes across as kind of flaccid. However he does deliver some very memorable and sticky choruses (most notably on "She's a Genius", "Roll Your Eyes", and "Peace and Quiet")
The production and instrumental performances are a more complicated riddle to unravel, because they're all over the place. As I mentioned before I had problems with the opener "Disastrous Looks', but it had some saving graces. The track takes a positive, but brief, change in pace towards the middle, and during the outro Andy Morin supplies some excellent drum fills. And this rings true for any moment he's allowed to display his chops. On "Starts With a C Ends With a U" they cleverly switch between digital drum arrangements and live drum performances, and it effectively backs the very multifarious composition. But the cut in general is among one of my favorites; with the tasteful horns, quirky synths, and subtle guitars that follow the constantly changing vocal melodies. Admittedly the first time I heard "Peace and Quiet" I was worried. The clean guitar that intros the track is way too light and gutless, but luckily a more meaty distorted electric guitar leads a majority of the song. And on paper I would assume matching a guitar of this nature to thin synth arpeggios wouldn't work, but on this cut (and a few others) Zach puts that to the test and it works out in his favor. Unfortunately not every instrumental on this LP leaves me feeling satisfied. The disjointed assortment of samples on the title track makes an interesting, but underwhelmingly short, experience. And overall the guitars on this album would have benefited greatly from a more crushing tone.
I think where this project ultimately struggles is keeping the line between Death Grips and the i.l.y's definitive. Obviously from a vocal perspective Zach and MC Ride aren't very much alike at all, but on the last three songs, "Roll Your Eyes", "I'm Gonna Have Sex", and "Spiral to Me", the sonic pallet takes a swift turn to 2012 era Death Grips. And while I can't go as far as to say that it sounds like an inauthentic group trying to rip off Death Grips (because the textures are very much Zach Hill), it does feel a little disingenuous and makes for a disorienting listen. But admittedly I'd rather listen to a Ride-less carbon copy of Death Grips than standard Noise Rock with thin guitars, which is what we got with tracks like "Stop Yelling in the Museum" and "Hey Mind Readers". So yeah while I do think this is a more interesting and experimental album than "I've always been good at true love" it doesn't quite come together as an equally coherent and focused LP. I appreciate the risks that were taken, but the execution isn't always solid across the board. Still. As a whole it's a decent enough project.