Death Grips – Government Plates
by Mike Doub (Psychology), published November 20th 2013
Moldy | Stale | Edible | Fresh | Tasty!
Whatever your feelings on Death Grips are, apathy probably isn’t one of them. In their short career, the Sacramento rap trio has inspired all kinds of over-the-top reactions from the people caught in their wake. And if you’ve followed music press at all in the last year and a half, you already know about a lot of them. They famously pissed off former label Epic Records last year when they leaked emails between themselves and label executives, as well as Government Plates’ predecessor No Love Deep Web in full. They famously pissed off fans and festival organizers this summer when they declined to attend their scheduled Lollapalooza performance, instead projecting a fan’s suicide note onto the stage. They famously piss off listeners with their dissonant music, too. MC Ride’s harsh bark and Zach Hill’s abrasive electronic beats are boundary-pushing, but they’re not for everyone.
Death Grips’ new album Government Plates isn’t going to get a fair shake, for all of those reasons. For non-fans, Death Grips’ recent PR mess makes it easy to write them off. Even for fans, Government Plates is a test of the listener’s ability to separate the band’s real-world misdeeds from their art. But for anyone who can make that separation, Government Plates rewards. The 11 songs here marry the cyberpunk synths of 2012’s The Money Store with the capital-R Rage of No Love Deep Web, and are some of Death Grips’ heaviest to date. They also feature markedly less of rapper MC Ride, who takes a back seat on most of these tracks. He shouts a few choice expletives, but more often lets the music speak for itself.
That’d be a problem if the beats weren’t so excellent. Because, wow, these beats. Zach Hill and Flatlander’s forward-thinking production throws the listener into some kind of scary dystopian future, full of robots and laser guns (like Major Lazer sans reggae). First song “You might think he loves you…” sets the tone, with shattering glass, siren sounds, and Ride howling through one of his fastest performances yet. Later, “This is Violence Now (Don’t Get Me Wrong)” turns Ride into an instrument, stacking a sample of him chanting the song’s title against phaser sounds and hectic percussion. “Big House” goes just as hard. It begins with an acid house-inflected intro, before shifting into a collection of stuttering drum hits in 6/8 time.
Though it’s all angry, Government Plates is plenty varied. First single “Birds,” for instance, is an excellent psychedelic number with looping guitar and layered vocals. On closer “Whatever I want (Fuck who’s watching),” the song’s bizarre jump-cuts are just as indebted to artists like Oneohtrix Point Never as anything Death Grips have done. Despite this, on Government Plates Death Grips prove that three albums and a mixtape into their career, they still don’t sound like anyone but Death Grips. I don’t know if they’ll ever escape being a constant source of controversy – even Government Plates shocked the Internet with its out-of-the-blue free release. But as long as their music holds up, I could care less.
Recommended Tracks: “You might think he loves you…,” “Birds,” “Big House”