Sactown represent: Listen, I’m not even going to pretend I’ve been aboard the Death Grips bandwagon this whole time—especially now that Spin has gone and named the Sacramento band its 2012 Artist of the Year. The truth is, I find the hip-hop/punk/death metal/whatever band’s tunes just kinda all right (more on that later). The band’s ever-growing mythology, however? Pass the popcorn, we got ourselves a show.
Y’all probably got the history down pat at this point, but the truncated, “previously on … ” version goes something like this: The band forms in 2010 with Stefan Burnett churning out staccato rap, Andy Morin programming beats and samples, and Zach Hill driving it all home on the kit, a grinding deconstruction of all things verse, chorus, verse and melody. Death Grips release an EP in early 2011 and quickly follows it with Exmilitary. Both albums are free. The band plays shows that become damn-straight legendary for their intensity. Adding to the mystique is a distrust and distaste for most things music journalism (read: no interviews, nada) and the group builds itself a persona for which the Internet and music junkies fall head-over-heels gaga.
Then, it gets signed to a major label, Epic Records. Sweet.
Eh, or not.
Death Grips version 2012 releases Money Store, which represents, to say the very least, an aggressive uptick to the approach of the band’s previous efforts. Like, you might need a few Valium to come down after listening to it. Just a suggestion, anyway. But things are still totally fine and mostly dandy at this point even as the band’s legend grows—blow its advance at a hotel? Sure, why not? That’s sticking to the man, all right!
But then Epic refuses to release the band’s second album (well, in 2012, anyway), No Love Deep Web, so Death Grips release it online. For free. Oh yeah, and the album art? It’s got some serious johnson action going on. Ahem. Cue the major-label dumping. Then Morin kind of unceremoniously disappears from the band’s lineup. No explanation. Nothing.
Anyhoo … so all of you indie diehards, I hope you’re taking notes, because this is how it’s done, apparently: genre-busting tunes delivered gratis and attitude in spades.
Spin’s take on the band is simple: In this age of social-media-as-star maker, it writes, “Death Grips are the first band to unmake themselves via the Internet. They’re a band computer-savvy enough to leak records directly to geek-download havens.”
Actually, not everyone at the magazine loves the Sac band—in an earlier review of the album, writer Rob Harvilla griped that the band’s so-called bite was actually pretty dull:
“It’d be nice if the alleged cutting edge in hip-hop/metal/noise fusion sounded more menacing and engaging than Kid Cudi on his cell phone at Electric Daisy Carnival yelling at a FreshDirect customer service rep for forgetting his avocados again.”
Ouch. Fighting words, maybe, but again, Artist of the Year, so blah, blah, blah, right? Sure, but well, personally—not that you asked, of course—Death Grips leaves me more than a little meh. At its best, the band cranks out some admirably rough and raw tunes. No excess finery here, just some teeth-grindingly intense shit. At its worst, however, this is hard, cold and brittle music that seems to fit our current techno-fueled ethos in what feels like the most depressing and nihilistic kind of way. I mean, not to germ this up with feelings and everything, but on its surface, much of what Death Grips drones on and on about about doesn’t sound that revolutionary. It just sounds angry and meaningless in that trying-so-hard-to-say-nothing-but-mean-something kind of way. I mean, check these lyrics, from Money Store’s “Bitch Please”:
“When shit goes down / I’ll be there / Wit’ my hand on my gun, and my eyes on the road / Ghost ridin’ to hell fuck if I care … who wanna catch my droze / Give a fuck blood, I ain’t goin’ nowhere.”
Genius or two-bit thug life? You decide. Then again, the track would make a nifty ring tone.
So, yeah, Artist of the Year. Kudos and all that. What’s next for the band? Who knows, but it’ll likely be either really epic (pun intended) or a major crash and burn. Whatever the case, the urban legend grows.