‘n***** on the moon’- Death Grips
“F*** it all I’m going down,” Death Grips “singer” MC Ride calmly intones over the skittering electronic bug that is “F*** Me Out”. Now four years deep into a career that’s been defined by label agitating and political firebreathing, it’s as close as the schizoid experimental rap trio has come to a modus operandi. Unlike the O’Doyle Clan in Billy Madison, they’re wholly aware the house of cards is going to topple at some point. When it does; Ride, drummer Zach Hill, and producer Andy Morin will make sure to drag as many evildoers down as possible.
On their latest out-of-nowhere album n***** on the moon, the first half of a proposed double LP, Death Grips do exactly that. From the cascading waterfall of Björk vocals in opener “Up My Sleeves” to “Big Dipper”‘s mechanical chug, Death Grips rail against: predatory fortune tellers, non-inclusive sports leagues, and manufactured news fodder just to name a few. Some tracks like “Black Quarterback” fly off the page with their righteously indignant criticism, while others such as “Voila” lurch out of the gate with their take-down. Prestidigitation seems to be the innocent topic of conversation in the hi-hat riding “Voila”, until you realize Ride is focused on faltering religious systems. “Whose voila suits you too well?” he teasingly interrogates in the number. At their best, faith-based belief systems can unite people together in service of a higher goal. In their ugliest moments they divide and stymie dialogue. When religion turns into a buffet where anyone can take what they like, the latter outcome is far more likely; a fact Ride is readily aware of.
Not that the MC’s every word should be taken as gospel. As convincing as his throat annihilating vocals often are, Ride’s an admitted “bulls***er” who no one believes. In fact, much of the neurotic n***** on the moon is concerned with being heard. Ride struggles to approach anyone over gorgeously exhaling wood flutes and degenerative drum machines in “Billy Not Really”. “(She) won’t come near me,” he says of a scary medium. Though his hairs stand on end when he sees her, you get the sense he’d love to bend her ear with chatter if he could. “Say Hey Kid” pushes and pulls Ride towards “his people” but the party can’t conclude before he’s asking “what are my people for?” While “Have A Sad C**”‘s production flails about like an Autobot on PCP, Ride fights off busyness and bulldozing music to rally the troops. Whether or not he’s heard depends entirely on the listener.
If any of Death Grips’ screeds were going to be understood, the batch of 8 tracks constituting n***** on the moon stands the best chance. Frenetic as ever, the songs possess a crispness rarely heard from the group. In “F*** Me Out” vinyl warmly crackles out of the speaker. With “Black Quarterback” producer Morin finds a way to masterfully incorporate Björk’s desperate moans, a nostalgic carnival-esque melody, and Hill’s hyper-speed drum work without sacrificing any one element. In aforementioned closer “Big Dipper” he cleverly calls back the melody before stacking a hiccupping Björk and tornado siren whooshes on top. Of all the sonic manipulation Morin does, his work with the Björk material is the most laudable. By and large it’s so seamlessly integrated into the raging machine that is Death Grips it becomes hard to tell where one begins and another ends. Sure the Icelandic siren sticks out like a sore thumb on “Up My Sleeves”, but her presence is largely undetected. So much so that she felt compelled to confirm her work on the album through her Facebook page. Most artists would ruthlessly “exploit” such a major collaborative partner, Death Grips are content to keep them in the shadows.
Ultimately this no frills approach is what continues to grant Death Grips an audience even after no-showing at concerts and being dropped from a major label. Ride’s frequent screaming at anything “establishment” is bound to get you wired up. When I was listening to the album for the first time in a crowded place, I wanted to start whirling around like a dervish. But if the band’s work falls on deaf ears or fails to inspire change, they won’t bat an eye or lose sleep. Their “agony is priceless” and will keep people coming back as long as they’re standing upright.
(n***** on the moon can be downloaded here. No word yet on when the second half of the powers that b, jenny death, will drop on Harvest/Third Worlds Records but when it does you’ll know.)