Words: Killian Barry
If the moniker of this Californian experimental hip-hop trio imbues the listener with a sense of apprehension, it is not without reason. Stubbornly refusing to be pigeonholed, Death Grips are a difficult proposition. Provocative and confrontational, vocalist Stefan Burnett and his production team / live band offer an intense take on the current wave of alternative hip-hop. Having generated substantial internet hype over the course of recent months, Death Grips find themselves releasing their full-length and major label debut The Money Store amid a weight of expectation.
To understate things, The Money Store consistently commands attention. Background music this is not. Over the course of 41 minutes, the band’s aggression is given every opportunity to rise to the surface, with fairly abrasive results. Heavy on industrial beats and often-discordant drones, the album is a full-on assault on the senses. That said, the passion and sheer originality on display go some way to redeeming it for those who may find themselves somewhat bewildered by sensory overload. There are more accessible moments, such as stand-outs ‘Hustle Bones’ and the infectious ‘I’ve Seen Footage’, and there is an immediacy to several tracks, including those that bookend the album (‘Get Got’ and ’Hacker’). Overall, though, this album is a tough and dense affair. A darkly ominous mood pervades singles ‘Lost Boys’ and ‘Black Jack’. Crisp production and occasional moments of bass-driven momentum do have the effect of relieving the claustrophobia, but it is not always an easy listen. The album arguably sags with the burden of some unremarkable tracks in the latter half and one cannot help but feel that Death Grips’ fresh and invigorating approach ought to yield at least one or two more truly captivating moments.
The Money Store is, however, ultimately driven by the vocals of the aforementioned Burnett, a.k.a. MC Ride. With little respite from his disjointed but relentless lyrical stream, there is a palpable urgency to the frontman’s vociferous pronouncements. Burnett’s up-tempo delivery of frequently incomprehensible or abstract lyrics barely contains his caustic fury. On occasions when one’s overwhelmed ears can decipher lyrical content, there are hints of an erudite individual at the helm, but Burnett’s vocals are mostly concerned with brutal force and impact.
Death Grips’ full-length debut is, then, a noisy and innovative hip-hop record. Though uncompromising and initially hard to process, the impressive effort that is The Money Store bodes well for the group’s follow-up album due later this year. On this evidence, Death Grips have, by virtue of being original and abundantly dynamic, done much to shake up the status quo of alternative hip-hop.