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Death Grips
Exmilitary John Calvert , May 24th, 2011 12:55

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"And every proton and neutron in every atom . . . swollen and throbbing, off-color, sick, with just no chance of throwing up to relieve the feeling. Every electron is sick, here, twirling off-balance and all erratic in these funhouse orbitals that are just thick and swirling with mottled yellow and purple poison gases, everything off balance and woozy" - David Foster Wallace, whose writing was as brain-twisting as Death Grips' raw but avant music - speaking on the depression that killed him, and whose description of a polluting micro-system hatched in the cerebra but raging in his guts finds a perfect analog in the aggro-gothic Exmiltary.

Death Grips - Exmilitary by deathgrips

This is a funhouse, bulbous with danceable heaviosity and sick bass permutations but built from the molecular facts of post-techno. It's a rocking firestorm forged in cold logic: procedural, binary, black and white, dense with gyrations, mutations, deferrals - a tarnation computed numerically, and chaos. There's no plan here, so no rules; an itemised, nonsensical showreel flaunting everything the Sacramento-based egregore are capable of. Which amounts to a lurid, livid, unquantifiable mess of method, an auditory jamboree dead-set on screen-crashing hip hop, contorting its myriad influences into junk art rinsers, hook-barking rabid dogs: meaningless, shameless, soulless, fearless. Who needs a central idea when you can do it all. A great album statement? No. Track-for-track the birth of a new legend? Absolutely.

The brainchild of founding member, producer Flatlander, the five-headed enigma that is Death Grips also features head MC Ride, side-vocalist/lyricist Mexican Girl, Info Warrior and beat-junkie Zach Hill of Hella fame. Unlike Tyler's Goblin this is an indie hip hop album based on the principle that punk rebellion requires energy. Lots of it. Every track operates in a hyperstitious state of mania without hope of reprieve; groaning under blue-note distress, and around every corner a sputtered percussion event: consolidation and the corollary of several cutting-edge regional dance scenes in currency right now. Meaning you get a largely kick-drum free convergence of near infrasonic bass and micro-detail - unsegmented tom rolls, pitched-up vocal chirps, snare clusters, and re-sequenced 808 brickbat.

The lo-tech roseola and electro-static texture evokes an aesthetic of system failure, an industrial-indebted car crash of ballistic dysfunction; part crowd-hyping and part sunken-eyed psychological collage. Over which presides an omnipresent blunderbuss of a voice, emanating from a Conrad-ian, death-obsessed rapper intent on (a Lydia Lunch quote) "getting to the roots of obsession".

Masochistic as often he is sadistic, MC Ride's upwardly inflected barks detail murderous plans and imaginary wickedness, as often as a bewildered fear of self - as though to ask the listener "Who made me like this?" which distinguishes him from the exclusively relentlessly angry likes of EL-P and DMX, with whom comparisons will be made.

There's a brain-dead quality to his character, but under bellow and beard is an intricacy and a colouristic subtlety, a "tongue in reverse", which lays free-standing phrases out in small parts, head-to-toe for 48 minutes, over anything they can throw at him - live drums, thunking midrange soft-beats, grime-esque synths and HEALTH-referencing cycles.

It must be an exorcising process for such a black-eyed psychodrama on four legs as he, but for all the deicidal chest-thumping even the king is susceptible to glitching and restitching, courtesy of a gleefully meddling production style hellbent on carving out quantum folds, unbalancing spatial shifts, thrilling whizz-pop reveals and tensile chitter from what, for the most part, is arguably an angular, beat-complex, mechanised update of paranoiac crunk.

It's probably Zach Hill you have to thank for such an unsweetened ear-thrashing, for his Face Tat roved a similarly gremlin-plagued furrow (only more Lightning Bolt than Antipop Consortium). When left to its own devices, though, Ride's flow is programmatic; the effect boorish but economic, loose but staccato, and equally as provocative as it is elliptical - "Head of a trick in a bucket, body of a trick in a bag," he snaps; "Tie the chord kick the chair and you're dead." Just like that. When on 'Culture Shock' he plies a comparatively less insidious intonation, it’s a relief.

So it goes like this. Swampy Dalek-esque opener 'Beware' is launched from a suspenseful Charles Manson dialogue clip. Trumpets and fender sustain rake at a faraway Ride who bare-chested and double-tracked declares "I am the beast I worship", while white-hot delay shrapnel showers down on a clunking boom-bap measure. It's a gambit of terrible fabulousness. With Mexican Girl doubling the vocal-attack, 'Lord Of The Game' is barbaric and broad-shouldered, but it's also an impossibly constricting experience, pulled taut by a stubbornly restrained structure, rapid fire voice-samples and helicopter-effect toms that play havoc with your neck arteries. So much so that even the sporadic squawks of atonal saxophone can do nothing by way of a release.

Next more sampling, with 'Spread Eagle Cross The Block', marrying the languid diabolism of Wray's 'Rumble' to Ride's perverted solicitations and bullish chants of "Ain't no fun if the aliens can’t have known" (a good tagline for Exmilitary). Anti-LAPD diatribe 'Klink' features woody pad hits and playing-card-in-the spokes drumline snares, before The Castaways' 'Liar Liar' takes us into 'Culture Shock'. Elaborately cross-rythmic and diseased with insectoid buzzing, the louche 'Culture Shock' rests on a birds nest of circuits and every now and then a ghostly battery of men step off the edge and fall to their death. Which make way for klaxon-firing beast in the form of dembow hell-raiser 'Thru The Walls', and the footwork-inspired 'Blood Creepin', which threatens to spin off its axis on impact with every squeezing bass drop and 8-bit ray gun effect.

Without question, though, it's 'Guillotine' which marks the Californians out as something a little bit special. A true postcard from the edge, its stillness and sharpness is electric enough, but its the power-up glissando, made by dropping the fidelity on Ride's recurrent exhortation "YAH!", that gets at your freudian bits. A nameless sound, it's like the answer to a question no-one asked, an abyssal void under the drainhole of Kevin Martin's worst nightmare - part engine rev, part shock therapy, and primed by the glitched refrain "It goes, it goes, it goes" which alternately arrives as "Zee-ko, zee-ko, zee-ko" until you can wrestle the syllables back into cyclical order, lest you black out. It's also a very skeletal machine for the delivery of pressure, coming very close to stalling, if not for Ride at his most charging and some zavvy editing. Otherwise the song is calm like a bomb. The wind-scoured expanse implied when Ride's desolate grunts fade into deep space serves to quieten the ambience, thusly accentuating the split-second electronic curlicue at 0:14 and the trepanning sine-wave current towards the end.

Indie hip hop's second play for the big time this year and a salutary reminder that mainstream rap is one 50 Cent single away from its Warren - 'Cherry Pie' moment, Ex-Military is a monumental blow for the underground. Connives Mr Ride on 'Guillotine': "Sit in the dark and ponder / how I'm fit to make the bottom fall through the floor / And they all fall down!" Let’s hope so - a gold guillotine to complacency, or it's back to the 'Candy Shop' we go.

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May 24, 2011 2:34pm

Zach Hill don't stand still (you can use that)

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Johnny Nothing
May 24, 2011 2:54pm

Surely Candy Shop was Fiddy's (and Hip Hop's) Cherry Pie?

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Johnny Nothing
May 24, 2011 2:55pm

Sorry. Needs italics on the "was" to make sense.

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May 24, 2011 10:45pm

"Showing results for Warrant - 'Cherry Pie'. Search instead for Warren - 'Cherry Pie'"

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May 24, 2011 10:48pm

This is the best thing I've heard on tQ. Thanks. Great to see Warrant's Cherry Pie get a mention too.

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May 25, 2011 9:24am

Compared to OFWGKTA (which the reviewer clearly was), it's worse lyrically but much better musically in places. Cool and fun but seems a bit thuggish rather than intriguingly depraved. 8/10

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Luke Turner
May 25, 2011 11:12am

'5D' is made out of 'Girls On Film' isn't it? And something else I can't quite place.

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J. A.
May 25, 2011 2:54pm

In reply to Asheq:

I've got Cherry Pie on 7". Still a tune!

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Dr. Keloid
May 26, 2011 10:47am

Magma sample! Yeeees!

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May 26, 2011 1:36pm

Warrant is still spelled Warren! At least give the articles and comments a cursory read, eh editors.

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Paul Garrity
May 26, 2011 8:21pm

In reply to Luke Turner:

I thought it was 'West End Girls'? Brutal album, knocks anything Odd Future have produced into a cocked hat. Whatever a cocked hat is...

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Jun 8, 2011 3:20pm

I was playing their first track 'Full Moon (Death Classic)' to death, so I was actually underwhelmed when the rest of the tracks filtered out. Check it out on youtube. It's brutal.

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Jun 8, 2011 7:13pm

Nightmarishly hardcore. Vocalist sounds like the RZA a little which is always nice. Wanna bump this in a combat heli if and when I get one.

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Jun 23, 2011 1:14pm

This is one of the most torturously written pieces of prose-criticism I've ever come across. Jesus H. Christ. It reads like an autistic The Wire article only minus any real meaningful substance.

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Jun 24, 2011 6:00pm

what my friend said when he first saw the guillotine video pretty much sums it up: "this put me into flight or fight response"

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Jul 1, 2011 11:31am

Loving it! They're coming over in the UK for shows in November. Best hip hop since Wu Tang?

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Jul 29, 2011 11:00am

is that DFW quote from the description of Poor Tony in Infinite Jest?

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Dec 16, 2011 9:59am

This floored me the day it landed and it's still thrilling me just as much now. If you could distil adrenalin in such a way as to administer it in the form of ear-drops then this would be the image on the label of the bottle.

"It goes, it goes, it goes" indeed.

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Dec 20, 2011 12:42pm

For what it's worth track #10 is pure kuduro with MC'ing on top. Loving this album.

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Jan 12, 2012 5:38pm

I'm all for literary allusions in music reviews but that DFW quote has no relevance whatsoever to even this review's reading of the record, let alone a more accurate reading of it (which i dont think would include exorcism of anything in any form, nor description of it as a "mess").

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Mr. Grips
Jun 17, 2013 6:42pm

This is unbelievably bad writing.

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