REVIEW: Death Grips - "The Money Store"

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Death Grips 
The Money Store
Record Label:  Epic Records
Release Date:  April 24, 2012

There's an old Buddhist saying:  "If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him."  Essentially the meaning is -- don't be led.  Or beware false prophets.  Or don't let expectations ruin your life.  Or beware men with bright orange robes.  Like most Buddhist sayings, it's a sentence which implies everything and, thus, nothing.  It's also the sort of thing that might pop into your head the first time through The Money Store the new LP from Death Grips, the underground Sacramento group gone who went major label oddity.  

This is one of those records that bloggers and reviewers have themselves spitting adjectives over.  Tagging the group as tracing a path between punk and hip-hop, such discourse limits the basis of the album.  Above all, Death Grips emerge as a band on this record.  Samples mix among ranging synth lines and percussion on "The Cage."  Opener "Get Got" explodes like a subterranean anthem while the hook orbits the slow beat of the verses.  It's tracks like this that make The Money Store's release on a major label such an anomaly.  While labels like Epic tend to feature middle of the road, marketable-due-to-their-easily-relatable-(and thus dumbed down)-genred artists (I'm looking at you The Fray), Death Grips pioneers their own style.  The connection reviewers are making between punk and hip-hop is apt and a bit nostalgic.  The fact is that punk rock has died as has hip-hop as movements and genres that are associated with a certain ideology.  The raw terror of Death Grips mines an area that artists from both areas have exploited decades before--a commitment to the roots of music.  The muddy under-produced vitality of the record sounds like something El-P would have done in the 90s.  It's socially revolutionary music.  If Death Grips appear unorthodox or like something new, it's a comment on how far past what music is that we've gone as well as a reminder of where we need to be.

For me, this sounds like the only revolutionary record of the past decade.  I'm not referring to the musical quality, though there are some great ideas happening there, but to the ethos of the album.  The Minutemen proved that punk was a political act not just a musical style.  Death Grips, in shunning genre, provokes a similar statement--is being unsellable on a major label a political act?  Can music in the United States be revolutionary anymore?  This album is probably as close I get these days to saying "yes."  

Obviously, the criteria for a revolutionary album is wholly subjective.  What stands out for Death Grips is their grimy style and undercooked production which seems to emerge from a strong band ethic as well as internet craziness.  I read somewhere that they sample YouTube.  It's the steadfastness of the band's vision and its commitment that sets it apart from other pretender musical visions of the 21st century.  Remember 8-bit?  Why it didn't survive is the same reason that Death Grips are important:  the absence of novelty.  While pulling from the net can just as easily result in Ryan Gosling saying something or memeing a guy hitting his nuts after falling off a skateboard, Death Grips have emerged from this social media hogwash into a genuine mood which seems as out to destroy as to create.  The endless circularity of the music masks an acute acumen for noise.  And like the punks, Death Grips knows that noise is energy.  What's revolutionary is that the noise, the energy, the brashness of tone and lyrical content manages to stay cohesive through a naturalness that we don't see much these days.  The Money Store appears at times like an amalgamation of everything taken from nothing.  Here the resonance lies, in the instinctive quality which makes this record raw and expansive and evocatively now.

1 comment:

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