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Death Grips - The Money Store

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Artist: Death Grips

Album: The Money Store

Label: Epic

Review date: Apr. 23, 2012

When Death Grips’s low-budget and creeped-out hip hop appeared last year, it was unlike anything else released in 2011. Sure, MC Ride’s sicko lyrics shared a thing or two with the Odd Future YouTubes dominating Tumblr, and the backing production was shaky and raw, but Ride didn’t seem fueled by youthful venom. He wasn’t going to grow out of whatever was haunting him, and he sure as hell didn’t seem have a collective of friends hyping each other’s moves. This rap seemed like it was coming from a dark, lonely place. Knowing samples of guitar riffs from Black Flag, Pink Floyd and Link Wray were the only hints of internet tomfoolery.

Turns out the beats were courtesy of longtime underground rock drummer Zach Hill, and it made sense: behind a kit, his hits are so hard, it’s like an overloaded drum machine. Ride, Hill and co-producer Andy Morin, all from Sacramento, Calif., were as much fans of noise as hip hop — one of the outlets where mp3s from Death Grips’s Exmilitary popped up was shit-short metal page Grindcore Karaoke — and they’d hit upon a metallic formula that sidestepped the crapfest that is the result of most (all, really) rap-metal recipes.

The Money Store is Death Grips’s next move, and they sound surprisingly ready to engage a wider audience. They jump from being a total DIY operation to a Sony Music Entertainment act. Ride is further back in the mix, less in your face. His flow, or lack of it, works like a walking bassline, squeezing and stretching phrases, but always landing on the last beat at the right moment. His phrasing locks in on rhythms for short stretches, getting caught in the machinery, then yanking free. If his stories are less psychotic (hey, he’s got a career now), his words and delivery have more going on. Without samples, Hill and Morin are challenged to plug in the holes that had been filled by vinyl stacks. The sawtooth waves, sirens and digital scorch on The Money Store are similar to early dubstep, but with twists toward sunburnt brightness. Heck, single "I’ve Seen Footage" is powered by bubblegum power chords like something out of Fatboy Slim c. 1999. A riff on the allure of shock videos, the queasy scenes of its lyrics are one step removed from the hyper-reality of Exmilitary. “Hacker” is bright, too, lit with the neon glow of Eurohouse synths. It’s another mediated situation, with Ride describing how identity can be destroyed by kids with computers, kids who are, in turn, busted and destroyed by those who "knock on your door... waiting for you." The track’s refrain applies to both sides: "When you come out, your city’s gone."

If those tracks trace out an ugly mutation of pop hooks, everything else is built out of noise from guys who know how to shape it and give it intent. "Hustle Bones" is a swamp of revving sounds — backup singers collapsing, engines accelerating, oscillators spinning, pulling east and south and west all at once. It’s such a storm that the grunt of “eat shit” becomes the sensible bit you grab to steady yourself through the chaos. Other tracks are a haze of midrange, with fuzzed-out Bollywood scales enveloping the vocals.

Where Exmilitary attacked, The Money Store taunts, forcing you to engage instead of retreat. Ride, Hill and Morin still don’t fit cleanly into any genre — if they’re no longer dirty-sink hip hop, they’ve already catapulted beyond sequencer glam like Sleigh Bells. Their novel juxtapositions don’t feel like novelties. In less than 20 months, these underdogs have become overlords.

By Ben Donnelly

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