Death Grips – The Powers That b Review

Death Grips are perhaps the most strange and innovative act in hip-hop to date. They exploded onto the scene in 2011 with ‘Ex Military’ and with tracks like ‘Guillotine’ it’s little wonder they cultivated such attention. This track is the perhaps the best articulation of the Death Grips sound, with its characteristic crashing synths combined with the unique rapping/shouting style of vocalist Stefan Burnett and dark subject matter. They followed ‘Ex Military’ up with ‘No Love Deep Web’ before releasing ‘The Money Store’ the same year. The latter saw them master the electronic elements of their sound; they even sounded a bit like Daft Punk with ‘I’ve Seen Footage’ but my favourite has got to be ‘Cage’. The album really is a testament to just how much you can do with synthesisers and the creative curiosity of the act. They dropped the first half of ‘The Powers That B’ (of which this is the 2nd half) last June. ‘Niggas On The Moon’ is Death Grips at their most abstract and experimental; they even sampled Bjork’s voice for this album and used it throughout as an instrument. The highlight for me is probably ‘Fuck Me Out’, typically taking sex through the dark filter the band is known for. The much hyped 2nd half of the album now arrives with mountainous hype; can it live up to it?

Jenny Death’s first single ‘Inanimate Sensation’ was the first indication of what we could expect from this instalment. It’s probably one of the most blood pumping songs I’ve heard for a long time beginning with the slow revving up of synths before bringing in brilliantly head banging drums. Clearly this track indicated taking the electronic element of ‘The Money Store’ in a more punky aggressive direction; the drumming for instance feeling notably more live than sampled gives it an even more aggressive edge. Lyrically also, Death Grips show even more prowess than previously with imaginative terms, like the line ‘As it unravels like enigmatic onion/ Layers of interdimensional dominion’. The latter in particular compliments the strange space like sound of the track. The opening track of Jenny Death, ‘I Break Mirrors with My Face in the United States’ (great title by the way) is the embodiment of this strange cyber punk sound they’ve stumbled upon. It really is chaotic in the best possible manor. Starting with the atmospheric electronic nature of Daft Punk’s Tron Legacy soundtrack lasts no longer than twenty seconds before being met with the smashing of drums which along with Burnett repeatedly shouting the title of this track make for a really exhausting and exhilarating track even though it’s around two and a half minutes long.

As great as the punky energy of Death Grips is  on this LP (and it is great!), I’ve always thought them at their best when they slow down just a tad, enabling me to listen to their lyrics and appreciate the often mind bending elements of their music. Thankfully, ‘Pss Pss’ does just that. Opening with synths that sound as though someone is pushing up and down on some kind of synth whammy bar is met with Burnett’s shouting emphasising the last syllable of each line in a similar fashion to ‘Inanimate Sensation’. The drumming makes a tremendous difference though; it is noticeably more subdued making the track oddly more at home on the dance floor rather than in the midst of mosh pit. The chorus too is damn catchy, with an almost creepy whispering voice again repeating the last word of each line. Unlike in the first single, his voice is not so overpowering and we are allowed to flow with this kind of warped synth sound. ‘Turned Off’ is an interesting track for Death Grips. It is in many ways more traditional than we would expect from them. This track does exemplify the new elements they’ve brought in, namely the punky guitars and drums. Obviously the electronic elements are still there but the distorted guitar and yet more chaotic beating of drums are as in your face as possible. The song is pretty much pure distortion and it sounds great. The penultimate track ‘On GP’ also shows off the addition of guitars, but this time with a much hard rock influence (increasingly Led Zep esque as the song goes on). ‘On GP’ fluctuates between a messy punk attitude and moments of dark reflection about suicide, the end of the first verse is particularly hard hitting but lyrically very clever.

‘Last night, 3:30 in the morning, Death on my front porch/ Can feel him itching to take me with him, hail death, fuck you waiting for/ Like a question no one mention, he turns around, hands me his weapon/ He slurs, “Use at your discretion, it’s been a pleasure, Stefan’ The album closes with ‘Death Grips 2.0’. This instrumental track is the only real disappointing track on the album. That said, it’s probably meant more as a message to fans rather than a musical message. The question marks over if the act will continue to make music is still there but I would suspect that this track means that thankfully we will see more of Death Grips. Jenny Death is a great album. In short (If anything they’ve ever done can be described as such), Death Grips have not only attacked this new album with renewed punk energy but have also incorporated elements of punk without compromising what made ‘Money Store’ so great. The drumming is perhaps the most notable change, particularly on the first two tracks ‘Inanimate Sensation’ and ‘I Break Mirrors with My Face in the United States’ set the tone for what is an impressive, adrenaline fuelled punk album for the electronic age.

The very last thing to note is that although Death Grips have packaged ‘The Powers That B’ as two halves (composed of both ‘Niggas on the Moon’ and ‘Jenny Death’) the two are vastly different. Like I said in the beginning of this review (which now feels like a world ago I’m sure you’ll agree) NOTM is much more abstract. The two are centred on two fundamentally different things, NOTM around the innovative sampling of Bjorks voice and JD around the more raw punk energy that Death Grips are unsurpassed at. The problem that I found with NOTM was that it is so abstract and impenetrable to all but seasoned Death Grips fans. That conceded the use of Bjork’s voice particularly on tracks like ‘Have A Sad Cum’, ‘Viola’ and ‘Billy Not Really’ comes off to great effect. The repetitive use of Bjork’s voice does get a little annoying at times and to listen through in one sitting may require a certain level of perseverance for perspective Death Grips converts.  It’s pretty close to a perfect score but tracks like 7 (Beyond Alive) and 8 (Centuries of Damn) are bit repetitive of the guitar sound on previous tracks in the album and ‘Death Grips 2.0’ isn’t quite the perfect finish that ‘On GP’ would have been.

Jenny Death =  9/10.

NOTM = 9/10

The Powers That B =  9/10

Callum Christie

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