Death Grips - The Money Store
Death Grips flatly describe The Money Store's cover art as, "an androgynous masochist on the leash of a feminist sadist who's smoking." On the meaning of the barren, colourless sketch, they go a little deeper: "We consider ourselves feminists, we fiercely support homosexuality, transparent world leadership, and the idea of embracing yourself as an individual in any shape or form." It's an image full of dichotomies and it sets the context for an album with an all-embracing mutant manifesto.
If the packaging is bleak, the music itself is even less welcoming, initially at least. The Sacramento trio's brand of industrial hip hop is a pummeling mix of distorted drums, synths and sampled sounds. The leitmotifs are frustration, aggression, anger. A glance at the song titles – 'The Cage', 'Bitch Please', 'Fuck That' – will ready you to a degree but nothing can prepare you for the all-out sonic onslaught of the next 40 minutes.
Though musically frantic, opener 'Get Got' is actually one of MC Ride's most restrained vocals to date. Swallowed up by the techno synths, you can smell the dry ice in the club as he narrates his mental breakdown and release: "Drilled a hole into my head, pierced the bone and felt the breeze." Next up is 'The Fever', a brauny attack of phase-shifted snare drums that sets the volume levels for the rest of the album. If these are dark, 'Lost Boys' is unapologetically macabre. Desolate, swirling electronic drones anchor Ride's vocals as he repeats his warning: "It's such a long way down." An extremely strong start, it should be said that these three tracks are reminders that Death Grips' music is also brimming with hooks. Each of the songs have quasi-pop moments and there is an unmistakable knack for melody which, despite its presence all over Ex Military, had gone unnoticed by many.
The breathy groove on 'I've Seen Footage' is a twisted take on Salt'n' Pepa's 'Push It.' Whilst managing to remain catchy, though, the song is a platform for Ride to assert his suspicion of power structures in general, with particular attention to the Third World: "Little tiger, boy soldier, twist a cap back and kills." The sheer volume of the music and the infectiousness of the flow can mean it's easy to miss the words. When you do catch a lyric, however, Ride has the ability to stop you in your tracks, making the message all the more startling. 'Double Helix' takes the spaced out hip hop of Shabazz Palaces to a more hostile space, while Punk Weight seems to sample an Indian soundsystem before exploding in to the album's most overdriven moment yet. It seems, on this evidence, that Death Grips have subscribed to the Chuck D school of mastering; that if it's louder then people will listen. Though Ex Military was a master class in aggressive energy, it honestly seems quiet placed alongside this.
The fact that Death Grips are able to keep the pace up for thirteen tracks is impressive, but to finish with the breakneck speed and quality of 'Bitch Please' and 'Hacker' is remarkable. The unrelenting fuzz of the synths and stuttering 808 on the latter sound like they were produced by Drukqs-era Richard D James, while Ride takes the opportunity to subvert the totems of middle class contentment in a technological age ("A plethora of maniacs and spiral stairs make your water break in the Apple store"). Expertly constructing a looming digital dystopia, he imagines himself only one figure away from the access code required to rule: "I'm in your area … I know the first three numbers." It's also a reminder that the group possess a razor sharp wit, the vocalist wryly declaring, "Soon your crew will be servin' sandwiches named after me."
As Death Grips' parting shot rings in your ears, you feel as though you've encountered something genuinely new. It's a dense journey, opening up with repeated listens, and you come away realising that everything is deliberate. While some albums leave you scrambling for a thesaurus, The Money Store thrusts countless adjectives towards the listener. It's eccentric, confrontational, disorientating. Crucially, however, it's fresh.
When Death Grips signed with Epic just under two months ago, alarm bells were quite rightly ringing. It seemed obvious that some sort of compromise would have to be brokered. Indeed, the story of MC Ride graffitiing Sony staff toilets before a meeting smacks of an uncomfortable effort to show that the trio really are as unruly as you'd hoped. However, while they can now count Shakira and Luther Vandross among their labelmates, it's clear that the group haven't been stunted by their choice of label. In a landscape dogged by homogeny, Death Grips thankfully remain an aberration.