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Death Grips - Government Plates

Posted on Friday, 15 November 2013 | No Comments

Just when the music critics thought it was safe to start preparing their end of year lists, as the music industry began its gentle slowdown into the glut of compilations, greatest hits and re-issues that comprises the bulk of pre-Christmas releases, here come Death Grips to crash the party, all muddied boots, torn clothing, boozy breath and hard-starting threat, muttering something about revolution under its breath before tearing the place apart. Although they might have remembered to keep it in the pants unlike last time, it's fair to say the threat of Death Grips being subsumed and co-opted into the mainstream remains minimal at best. After their dramatic 2012 saw them release two full-lengths - one the exciting, blazing major label The Money Store, the other the contract-breaking, nihilistic No Love Deep Web - 2013's been a curious one for the act, marked as much by show cancellations and dumb, backfiring pranks as anything else. If it had previously been a chicken-and-egg scenario with their intense, claustrophobic industrial hip-hop and their distainful approach to the business, their antics were in genuine danger of overshadowing their energising and frequently brilliant music.
Into this fray comes Government Plates, their fourth full-length, uploaded for free without prior announcement or fanfare last night. Where even the numerous provocations of No Love Deep Web's release, from issuing private correspondance with Epic to the infamous artwork of Zach Hill's 'little Zach', at least came with some kind of warning beforehand thanks to the band's deep web treasure hunt, the evening release of Government Plates was entirely unexpected. The simple, silly artwork and low-key release could have been suggestive of a less ambitious work, but in stripping away a lot of the attention-seeking and trolling of their usual public image, Death Grips have enabled the album to stand on its own far better than its predecesor. And after a few listens, it's clear that this is another great addition to their growing catalogue.
If there's one particular aspect of Death Grips that gets brought to the surface here, it's the oft-submerged sense of humour (twisted as it might be) that runs through their work. Quite apart from the fantastically titled, Dylan tweaking opening track You might think he loves you for your money but I know what he really loves you for it's your brand new leopard skin pillbox hat - a late contender for song title of the year - the energy level gets ramped up to such a frenzied level here that sometimes sheer delighted laughter is the most appropriate response. There's little touches throughout like the nods to 4chan on This is Violence Now (Don't Get Me Wrong) and the self-referrential nature of Bootleg (Don't Need Your Help), as well as the strange, repetitive lo-fi CGI videos released for each song on the album (here's the one for Two Heavens) that underline the irreverent, prankster spirit that runs beneath even their more aggressive and self-important acts. Sure, Death Grips might be the sound of information overload and our culture of surveillance brought to belligerent, visceral life, but that doesn't mean we can't have some fun.

Album highlight Birds leaps from the kind of high-octane electronic battery typical of Death Grips to a twisted guitar riff, left to warp in the Californian sun and then cut up and rearranged in a lurid new form before MC Ride offers up some Bukowskian poetry. It's one of the few major showcases for him on the album though, with Zach Hill's production increasingly distorting and crowding out MC Ride within the mix, with tracks like Big House and Feels like a Wheel emerging as dark party anthems, where house gets given the brutal Death Grips treatment, a new turn in the act's evolution . Given his relentless delivery, perhaps side-lining him for parts of the album has given Government Plates a sense of vitality and freshness not present on the grim No Love Deep Web, but it's still when it's at the forefront that Death Grips are at their most urgent. MC Ride's lyrics, a cut-up mesh of paranoia, political anger and surrealistic tangents that speaks to the cultural and sub-cultural moment in fractured, right language, are as attention catching and divorced from the rap mainstream as ever, and while there may not be a single lyric as attention-grabbing as Artifical Death in the West's chant "she shoot pussy through your chest, you die", the associations drawn betwene theft, sado-masochism and self-determination on Whatever I Want (Fuck Who's Watching) are another example of the cryptic, unsettling and essential perspective on the secrecy and threat of modern existence.

The numerous near-instrumentals and short running time could have left Government Plates as a botched effort from a band struggling to regain its initial impact. Instead though, it shows the band leaving 2013 on a high - bloodied but unbowed from its major-label battles and live reputation, continuing to mine a seam of technological sub-culture to reflect the modern west back at itself, still finding new ways to repurpose their aggressive sound and to dazzle the listener. Where Ex-military was a stark statement of intent and The Money Store a grand coming-out party, Government Plates is the proof that the Death Grips narrative is far from finished.

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