The Powers that B – Death Grips

by Tom Loughney ’16

So the other day, Death Grips dropped the first half of their upcoming double album, The Powers that B. True to formthey released it with neither pomp nor circumstance, and I’m kind of glad they did – had there been any hype, I think I would have come away from this record feeling disappointed. The LP, titled Niggas on the Moon, is a bit of a mixed bag. The instrumentation is consistently interesting, and MC Ride’s ruinous voice returns to the forefront of the group; however, many of the same uninspired songwriting techniques from the lackluster Government Plates make a return as well. This record is definitely a step in the right direction, but it still lacks the awe-inspiring POWER of previous Death Grips releases.

MC Ride’s resurgence on this album is a breath of fresh air after his almost cursory presence on Government Plates. His flow and lyrics are as deranged as ever, and it’s nice to hear him using a more dynamic emotional range, instead of his typical constant screams. This lends moments like the second verse on “Up My Sleeves”* the violent impact that I CRAVE from Death Grips. While I’m a huge fan of Ride’s dynamic flow and his lyrics, the album lacks the thematic cohesion found on the group’s other projects.** Exmilitary was about primality, The Money Store was about paranoia and mental fragmentation, and even the slightly less impactful No Love Deep Web had a general sense of menace and torturous violence.*** On this album, however, MC Ride seems to be more content with making superficially demented rhymes that have no meaningful connection to one another. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy Ride’s lyrical creativity; however, one of the great draws of Death Grips is their ability to create a consistent tone across a project as a whole. The group’s strong sense of tone gives their albums a concrete form – something that this most recent LP is sorely lacking.

Musically speaking, the album’s instrumentation often gets in its own way – resulting in a loss of melodic and rhythmic direction. Throughout the album, Death Grips utilizes heavily treated vocal samples**** that, when cleanly presented, end up catchy, listenable, and really quite beautiful. Unfortunately, this technique wears out its welcome by the end of the album, due to its presence on almost EVERY SONG. Additionally, in pursuit of a fragmented, kitchy texture, Death Grips mainly creates a mess of relentlessly disjointed percussion and synths – losing a lot of the production’s subtleties in the process.

There are definitely tracks that I LOVE on this record. “Up My Sleeves” is fantastic, versatile, and possesses the POWER that I look for in Death Grips’ music. ”Billy Not Really” has a fiendishly clever hook, even if it is just shallow wordplay, and “Black Quarterback” has my favorite usage of the treated vocal samples on this album. These songs are also quite catchy, despite their esoteric sound. Other songs leave me feeling almost embarrassed for Death Grips. “Have a Sad Cum” is DYING to be provocative, but it’s nothing more than a musically and lyrically tedious track – reminiscent of many of the tracks off of the disappointing Government Plates. “F**k Me Out” suffers from similar problems. “Big Dipper” has potential, but the hook has what are easily some of the weakest lyrics MC Ride has ever written, and the track ends with an overwrought medley of vocal samples and synths that feels uncomfortable and out of place.

Ultimately, I don’t think this is a bad LP. It’s CERTAINLY better than Government Plates – tightening the melodic focus, and granting MC Ride greater prominence; however, their pursuit of a fringe rhythm and sound results in a congealed mess of popping drums and grating synthesizers that drown out each other’s subtleties in a wash of noise. Death Grips has an understandable desire to remain on the edge the genre, but hopefully the second part of this project will reflect more of the cohesion of their earlier work.

(STRONG) 6/10

You can download it HERE off of their website.

*TISK, TISK, TISK / MY TERRACOTTA ARMY
**Excluding Government Plates, because there was so little lyrical content that it’s difficult to say that album had any sort of theme at all
***I have no clue if I’m right or not with these, so if you disagree with me, that’s cool. This is just what I felt these albums to be about.
****Which I assume to be Björk’s sultry voice

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