Death Grips: The Money Store Review (3 Takes)
It can be difficult to gain a balanced perspective on an album after reading a single summary of the music. Bias can tilt a review, as can personal taste, history and just about everything else that is unique to the person writing it. So in an effort to offer an expanded perspective in such a medium, here are three reactions, three impressions, three Takes on The Money Store by Death Grips.
My first exposure to the Cali noisenik hip-hop destructionists Death Grips was the video for “Guillotine” off the trio’s Ex-Military mixtape. Riding shotgun in a mid-sized sedan against a backdrop of digital static, vocalist Stefan Burnett lost his mind over an abrasive minimalist beat (though, oddly, he remembered to fasten his seatbelt). The striking, low-budget video was an effective statement of purpose for Ex-Military, a rap record that was punk in philosophy and, at times, practice (the Black Flag sample seemed to place it explicitly in the tradition of American underground rock – if the participation of Hella drummer Zach Hill in the proceedings wasn’t enough). The mixtape itself was bracingly urgent, all sheet metal electronics, distorted rock samples, and vocal rage.
Amazingly, this uncompromising album somehow got Death Grips signed to Epic. For its first commercial release, the trio has abandoned the sample-heavy format of the first (or was forced to, I suspect, by the realities of sample clearance) for subtler electronics – the disjointed rave of your nightmares, emceed by the absurdly apoplectic Burnett.
In comparison to the visceral Ex-Military, The Money Store is the proverbial “grower.” From the opener “Get Got” on, the album feels more refined, if less bracing. Burnett’s vocals are pulled back in the mix, blending into the off-kilter digital assemblages instead of dominating. It’s not always easy to discern individual lyrics, but memorable non-sequiturs like “teaching midgets how to swim” or “hustle bones comin’ out my mouth” stick in your head long after you’re done listening. I found I enjoyed the album more once I accepted that Burnett was just another part of the music, much in the same way The Fall’s Mark E. Smith functioned in Von Sudenfed, his electronic collaboration with Mouse on Mars.
Still, it’s becoming apparent that, for all his outsized personality, Burnett isn’t much better than average as an MC. And let’s be honest: a rapper yelling over ominous electronics isn’t as novel as most of the people writing about this album would have you believe. It’s also deceptively poppy. Strip away the distorted sonics from “I’ve Seen Footage,” and the song is a foursquare rock/rap song reminiscent of classic Run-DMC.
Musically, it’s more diverse and, in many ways, a better album than Ex-Military. If it’s not as thrilling, it will probably age better. I’ve liked it more every time I’ve listened to it.
Death Grips, the three-man group from Sacramento, CA made up of Stefan Burnett, Zach Hill and Andy Morin have put out a debut album in The Money Store that at first glance will have you jarred. Dirty percussive elements mix with the industrial sound gives the album The Money Store a feel that is almost nihilistic and fascinating. Stefan Burnett’s vocals have this haunting baritone that sounds like its on the verge of a chaotic downslide, which definitely adds character to such crazy mayhem as “Get Got”, and the dark and eerie panic that sets in on “Lost Boys.” Elsewhere on the album, you have such tunes as the laser-guided pulsating synths of “Blackjack,” whereas “Hustle Bones” sounds like the Mr. Hyde to A$AP Rocky & Schoolboy Q’s “Brand New Guy,” every line has no energy wasted, and its just as sporadic and chaotic elsewhere on this album. Given that this project is only one of two projects that are set to arrive this year, The Money Store is probably one of the most troublesome and intriguing listens this year.
It took me a long while to really come around to the Death Grips’ first record Ex-Military. My impression of the band upon first hearing them was that it sounded like a group of drunk, white boys trying to act hard while also rapping as loud as possible (to make up for a lack of rhyming ability). And yeah, I know (vocalist) Stefan Burnett isn’t white – but to me the sound immediately reminded me of the over-the-top-ness you often hear from white rappers to try and overcompensate for the fact that they are, well, white (think Vinnie Paz).
But I came around and I came around hard. There is still something about the aesthetic that turns me off, but the attitude and sheer audacity of the trio’s style is undeniably infectious. They aren’t really very good at rapping from a technical standpoint, but they have turned sloppy, hardcore rhyming into their own unique form of art. That being said, though it seems to be getting more praise, I think that the new record The Money Store isn’t quite as good. There is just something about the first album, from the Manson snippets onward, that makes it pretty much cohesively perfect. And when I say cohesive I mean from a chaotically non-cohering standpoint that in itself, forms a sort of cohesion. A cohesion of thrilling manic energy. The Money Store has great moments as well but I don’t find it quite as exciting. Maybe like Ex-Military it will just take me a while to warm up to it. I mean it is great, but from a comparative standpoint I think just a tad disappointing. Or perhaps it is just because the sound isn’t “new” anymore.