Death Grips


"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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