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Review : Death Grips – Government Plates (LP)

Unexpected release of album number four by the most innovative band of the 21st century, Death Grips!

Artist : Death Grips
Artist Release : Government Plates
Release Date : Was out early 2014, got released unexpectedly by the band this week!

Death Grips are a rarity. A hybrid of hardcore hip-hop, punk, electronica, and alternative music, but not necessarily fitting in to any one genre. They remain one of the most enigmatic, compelling, and and downright innovative bands of recent times. In the past 3 years, they have released three of the most arguably envelope pushing records in modern music, with the releases ‘Exmilitary’, ‘The Money Store’, and ‘No Love Deep Web’.
They have left a path of chaos and notoriety in their path, everything from not turning up to their own show (and leaving the crowd to decimate the stage / venue), to managing to piss off Epic Records in a very bitter and public feud to which the band decided to release ‘No Love Deep Web’ way earlier, as the label was seemingly trying to postpone the release until a lot later on.

So fast forward a few months after drummer Zach Hill said he would be taking a break from Death Grips in order to work on some other projects, and something truly unexpected happens. On the 13th November, Death Grips out of nowhere released their brand new album ‘Government Plates‘ entirely for free via their own label Thirdworlds.net. As well as the release for the album, every track was accompanied by a music video of either minimalist, surrealist, or intense nature. This looks like what the guys have been working on in the meantime….

So getting to the album, this is probably the most ‘avant garde’ that the band have ever gone. With every release Death Grips have put out, it has been one which I personally have had to analyse in and out musically, production wise, and of course… critically. But upon hearing ‘Government Plates‘, it provided me with the most attentive listening I have experienced with any Death Grips release. Where previous releases have either had a consistent conceptually thematic direction in terms of music or lyricism, ‘Government Plates’ is just an erratic, full scale assault on the senses.

The album kicks off with the ludicrously titled ‘You might think he loves you for the money but I know what he really loves you for it’s your brand new leopard skin pillbox hat’, and believe me when I say this… this is arguably one of the best Death Grips songs I have EVER heard. This is like a mutation of distorted dubstep, music concrete, and digital hardcore punk. Seriously, it may be purely electronic, but this song would quite easily translate to a heavier music-based audience, and this would surely be the most overlooked mosh anthem of 2013. An absolute kick to the senses with alternating fluctuations of pitch / tempo shifted vocals and migraine inducing high / low frequencies.

When it comes to tracks like ‘Two Heavens’ and ‘Big House’, that is probably the closest you will get to a ‘solid’ hip-hop track on this album, but even this could be not even classed as hip-hop. This is pushing the envelope as far outward as possible from the general consensus of the genre itself.
With tracks like ‘This Is Violence Now‘ and ‘Feels Like A Wheel‘, this actually really reminds me of some earlier material of The Prodigy from the ‘Experience’ and ‘Music For The Jilted Generation’ era, musically speaking it has that frenetic sample heavy manipulation with a hyper electronica tempo that could easily be put in the techno category.

But I guess some of the more challenging tracks on this album comes within the vein of ‘Birds’, and ‘Anne Bonny’. Although ‘Anne Bonny’ sounds like a schizophrenic club track of varying tempos which do not necessarily gel together to make a consistent flow but still makes a great track, ‘Birds‘ is just stark raving mental. In fact I will go as far to say that this is the most challenging Death Grips song there ever has been. A bizarre and eerie mix of ambient and distorted melody / chaos, extremely obscure lyrics that pretty much make hardly any sense, and a shit load of modulation and pitch shifting that make the overall tune sound like it has just been saved from the clutches of a analog tape machine that has just been possessed.

There are actually some real cool moments which just particularly focus on the instrumentals rather than MC Ride being the main focus. The songs ‘Government Plates’ and ‘Bootleg’ focus on the skills expertly demonstrated by Flatlander and Zach Hill as musicians and producers, and actually make for some potentially sweet underground club tunes to get freaky to.

Even the final track on the album ‘Whatever I Want (Fuck Who’s Watching)’ could be lumped in to the underground club anthem category with the inclusion of MC Ride‘s obscure lyrics, but the overall feel of that tune is like a mixture of major ecstasy driven come-ups and come-downs.

The ranges of musical influences on here are as diverse as ever. There are elements of minimalist techno, early 90s UK acid rave / breakbeat, industrial, dubstep, punk, hip-hop, and music concrete. There is some serious experimentation going on within the ranges of musical diversity, and it is elements like these that make this album a substantial listen. I would also like to say that there is also a massive cyber-punk sort of sound and feel to it. Death Grips have somehow been making soundtracks for the ‘information age’, this being the generation of Internet reliance and paranoia. I guess on a linear visual conception, ‘Government Plates‘ sounds like it should have been the soundtrack for something like Lost Highway, The Matrix or Blade Runner, or maybe even to the cyber-punk themed video games like Deus Ex! But that is just my personal observations in play on a different creative perspective.

MC Ride as a vocalist as well is just as on point as ever, however on ‘Government Plates‘ he is actually a lot more restrained compared to previous releases. Not necessarily in terms of lyrical content, but in terms of presence on the album. Now thematically speaking, in previous releases there is a coda in which we follow a ‘character’ who is plagued with troubles thoughts within his corrupted psyche, who also witnesses and experiences such things as substance abuse, sexual depravity, murderous and violent intentions, paranoia and social obscurity, and much more.
But on ‘Government Plates‘, it is quite tough to actually see whether this running theme is carried on.
But in terms of the videos that actually followed on with the songs when they were leaked, I do wonder whether this is the end of this ‘character’ and his journey / self-destruction within the realm of the information age. See the video for ‘Whatever I Want (Fuck Who’s Watching)‘ to see what I mean. Subliminal visual messages, or merely but surrealist visions? You tell me.

When it comes to production values, this is fucking awesome. Zach Hill and Flatlander have really pushed the boundaries even further with their innovative and mind bending production techniques, and they deserve some major credit in being able to make something as challenging and obscure as this. A couple of the main production techniques that seem to be in play throughout the whole album is the uses of frequency modulation, and sample-based pitch shifting. There is also (as ever) a lot of creative distortion and bit crushing techniques used within some of the production, which when put to use actually sound like something from a Mad Capsule Markets album. Additionally, I would also like to point out that there is a lot more sampling techniques used within this album (probably the most they have experimented with samples since the ‘Exmilitary‘ album.

My criticisms with this album however lie within its partial inconsistency. Now with previous releases, there has been a consistent flow through out with the songs blending in great with each other. However with this album, each track has like a sudden or unexpected ending before it begins with the next song. Take for example the transitions going between ‘Birds’ to ‘Feels Like A Wheel’, or ‘Government Plates’ going in to ‘Bootleg (Don’t Need Your Help)’. But then again, this could be just another production element that Hill and Flatlander have experimented with to survive not just within the erratic musical compatibility, but also the unpredictable nature of the production values as well.

Ultimately that is what we have, an extremely unpredictable, musically schizophrenic, and conceptually challenging album which would most definitely mark Death Grips most obscure release to date. I would even go as far to say that this album almost has a nightmarish David Lynch-ian like feel to it. That feeling of overwhelming unpredictability and the exploration of uncharted territories where literally anything could happen.
Whilst ‘Government Plates‘ does not necessarily have the musical consistency of the likes of ‘The Money Store’ or the dark foreboding atmosphere of ‘No Love Deep Web‘, this is almost like an experimental continuation (whilst not being conceptually related) of the musical alchemy that could be found on ‘Exmilitary‘, but at the same time making it sound more relevant with the themes and stories told on the past two Death Grips releases.

Government Plates‘ is probably one of the most far out, genre melting, and substantial music releases you will hear all year without a shadow of a doubt. This will take a little while to get in to, or maybe even ‘get’. It is an album with a lot of layers to it, where every listen there is something new to discover. Rewarding if challenging, Death Grips have further proved themselves to be on the front line of musical and production-based innovation, and continue to be the most original, chaotic, and absolutely pivotal groups of the 21st century.

Score : 8.5/10

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