Words About Music
Personal friends and even perusers of this forum can know at least one thing for certain about me: I am a massive Death Grips fan. Since first coming across this experimental music group in early 2012, several months after they dropped their 2011 debut mixtape “Exmilitary,” I have voraciously consumed practically everything the band has put out. I’ve seen them perform live twice, I own a T-shirt, I own two of their albums on vinyl, the band released my AOTY in 2015 AND in 2016, need I go on?
One of the most exciting things about being a Death Grips fan is that anything can happen, for better or worse. In 2012, the band decided to release “No Love Deep Web” without the consent of the major label they’d somehow been signed to, completely for free, effectively ending that relationship. In 2013 after plenty of radio silence, the band dropped yet another surprise full-length, “Government Plates.” This string of surprise releases would continue, although the release of their 2016 album “Bottomless Pit” was comparatively straightforward and free of tricks.
But, with every Death Grips album release sees that fatal question: Is this the last time we will hear from them? We got a false flag breakup back in 2014, which in retrospect just seems like an excuse for the band to ditch their Nine Inch Nails/Soundgarden tour to finish up the “Jenny Death” half of “The Powers That B.” But that doesn’t mean this band couldn’t still end at or without a moment’s notice. Just look at the lyrics from their 2016 track, “Eh”: “I’m kinda sketch, I might shoot a glance at the desperate like/Then I forget shit like Death Grips, like eh.” If that entire “Bottomless Pit” album is essentially just a series of asocial jabs at an overexcited, youthful, thrill-seeking fanbase, then that line on that track is the epitome of that vibe.
With that said, Death Grips never doesn’t deliver. Since forming, we have seen two officially slated entirely-instrumental projects from the band. In early 2015, we got “Fashion Week,” a record which teased fans with its track titles, which spelled “J-E-N-N-Y-D-E-A-T-H-W-H-E-N,” referring to a meme-phrase that had circulated among the band’s fans during the months-long wait between the first and second disc of “The Powers That B.” In early 2016, between “The Powers That B” and “Bottomless Pit,” the band hit us with an instrumental EP titled “Interview 2016” which was initially released in the form of a YouTube video of abrasive, edged electronic music soundtracking an unreleased, unheard interview (and performance) that the band did for Matthew Hoffman, a perfectly pleasant man who generally interviews celebrities and reenacts famous movie scenes with old people. The audio of that interview itself has still not been released. Fucking hell.
And now, with the announcement that yet another Death Grips LP is impending, we have been hit with the most cohesive, coherent between-album release the band has put together so far. Taking inspiration from the high-BPM European style of dance music known as gabber, the band has put together a seamless series of 7 or so songs, extended into one 22.5-minute “megamix.”
“Steroids (Crouching Tiger Hidden Gabber)” kicks off with a bang, as the refrain “My whole life, my whole fuckin’ life” is repeated by the group’s enigmatic frontman and lyricist, Stefan Burnett. The synth sound in this section reminds me a lot of “No Love Deep Web,” but with a bit of “Government Plates” thrown in there, too. It’s a distinct change of pace from the guitar-oriented punk direction the band was going in on their previous two releases, but it still has the feel of Zach Hill’s bonkers drumming.
Right off the bat I love that Stefan has a heavy vocal presence on this release, and I love the smooth transitions between sections. The more I listen, the more I get the sense that this provides a somewhat healthy mix of all of Death Grips’ music comprised into one heavily remixed and fucked-with bag of chaos.
The second section of this EP is a bit more straightforward, with its somewhat more clear verses and lyrics from Burnett, despite the fact that parts of it are sped up and pitched up. He is delivering lyrics that are in the vein of “Bottomless Pit,” wherein he tries to reconcile his introverted and nihilistic personality with the fact that he is adored for his art by hundreds of thousands of people, sometimes for the wrong reasons.
Next is a section that has been dubbed “Bald-Headed Girl” for its hook, which tells as close to an empowering tale as Death Grips can muster. I mean that not to say that Death Grips is not empowering, just that they don’t generally tell straightforward tales. All you really need to know is the line “Bathe in you like Bathory” to know what’s going on here. Don’t fuck with the stoic, bald-headed girl is the general moral of this story. It’s also a bouncy, intense track which does seem to take some inspiration from the gabber genre. As always, I am left wondering exactly how Zach made these beats, if it is true that he is responsible for all the production in Death Grips’ music.
The fourth section of this record features a bit of live instrumentation as well as some vocals from Zach at the beginning, before jumping into another Death Grips track which more resembles the rest of this release. It has an undeniable groove and bounce to it in that way that Death Grips songs tend to do, as well as a fantastic hook in “Come and go whenever to wherever you please.” The way Stefan flows on this track is fucking fantastic, and it further cements that while this band doesn’t just make hip-hop, there is a hip-hop element to their music that remains to this day. He is rapping all over this release, and putting out some of the most creative, confusing bars of any MC today.
As usual, too, the lyrics are delivered so quickly that it can be really hard to make sense of what is being said or what it means. I highly recommend going in and reading the lyrics on this EP, because none of them are throwaways. There’s a lot of memorable lines on this one, just like there are always memorable lines on Death Grips releases. There’s also a lot of serious stuff going on here amid the humor, with Stefan rapping about economical living under capitalism, racism, and depression.
The squelching synths and time-defying-signatures return with the EP’s final cut, which I would probably titled “Panel Movement” based on its refrain. It has some great lines like “Y’all nations are stuck in gutters fastened by checks” and “I’m too sick now to eat, I inspect my money just ’cause.” And just as this EP kicks in like a broken wall, it ends like a power outage, and you’re left in a daze.
Your head is spinning. The walls are spinning. Everything is still. What’s going on? Why? Death Grips, that’s why. Because, once again, the most exciting group in experimental music right now has blessed us with another fantastic record. Much like Kendrick Lamar and Radiohead, even Death Grips’ throwaways are fire. If this is the direction the band is going in on their next LP, I couldn’t possibly be more excited. If they’re going in an entirely different direction, who cares, it’ll probably still be my favorite album of the year it comes out.
In the meantime, though, there’s a lot to love about this “Steroids (Crouching Tiger Hidden Gabber)” extended track thing. I wouldn’t call it a good starting point for the band if you’re unfamiliar, but there is a hell of a lot about this release worth loving for the band’s preexisting fanbase. I do crave some of the sonic and lyrical straightforwardness that has started to pop up on the band’s recent releases, but a return to the bizarre, obscure weirdness that lies at the heart of this band is always a welcome one.
SCORE — 8.75 out of 10
FAVORITE TRACKS — Section 1 (My Whole Life), Section 2 (Enigmatic), Section 3 (Bald-Headed Girl), Section 4 (Come and Go Whenever to Wherever You Please), Section 6 (Black Body)