It’s difficult to deny the social, cultural, and political significance that frequently appears to attend the culture of music. But in the matter of experiential meaning, of temporal engagement with sound, the endeavor to pinpoint the identity of meaning in music is largely disadvantageous. I — ironically, as a music writer — agree with Jamie Saft that “when considering terms to deconstruct music, all language is equally useless in expressing something extra-linguistic.” Words are open to interpretation, but to the individual, they stand as confinements, restraining the natural fluidity of meaning in music; in Saft’s words, “they are constructs of the world outside the music itself, meant to shackle music and lock it up in an ivory tower, never to see daylight or open ears again.” Contrariwise, the intensity of meaning in music is the fundament of our relation to it. And in order to connect with a series of sounds to our satisfaction, we desire a certain degree of it. Intensity is amplified anywhere. For me, the music of Sade can harvest the same degree as that of Throbbing Gristle. So too, Death Grips yield intensity explicitly through their coercion, but equally in the subtle intricacies that adorn their music.
The ‘experimental hip-hop band’ self-released Exmilitary last year, and the album deservedly featured in our Favorite 50 Albums of 2011 list. The stark minimalism of “Guillotine” was an illustration of Death Grips’ ability to muster brimming intensity in even the emptiest of sonic arrangements. The Money Store maintains this degree, even augments it at times. “Punk Weight,” for example, sets out with a frantic Eastern tone, before collapsing — presumably from said weight of punk — into a heavily distorted low-end barrage of percussion. Despite a continuation with regards to intensity, The Money Store presents a significant and generally positive progression in the band’s sound. Opener “Get Got” immediately indicates a more soulful inclination, MC Ride’s voice tender and cool above the overdriven electronics. The album advances with a string of hefty offerings; “The Fever,” “Lost Boys,” “Black Jack,” “Hustle Bones,” “I’ve Seen Footage,” and “Double Helix” are all contenders for best track. In fact, it’s seemingly impossible to discern a weak number from the 13-song set.
While drummer Zach Hill is the most well-known member of the group — by way of his role in luminary noise-rock duo Hella and his many projects — the band is keen to affirm that Death Grips is not a Zach Hill ‘side project.’ “The Cage” showcases Hill’s talent through a typically staggered percussive energy, all dynamic, propulsive, and violent. Closing The Money Store is “Hacker,” which is softer in sound than anything else on either of Death Grips’ releases, comprising a surprisingly content four-to-the-floor bounce, albeit still conjuring up a world in which dance clubs house mosh pits. In the intervening time since Exmilitary, comparisons have been made to certain contemporary forward-thinking hip-hop acts, but Death Grips’ particular combination of avant-garde aesthetic, militant aggression, and MC Ride’s molten flow is perhaps more comparable to Brooklyn hardcore/hip-hop band Candiria’s music of a decade earlier than contemporaries Odd Future or Shabazz Palaces. Nevertheless, Death Grips have managed to situate themselves in a unique and peculiar territory in which they are both peerless and able to appeal to fans of almost everything.
The music on The Money Store remains unabashedly DIY, despite its release on major label Epic records. Cynics might call it selling out or betrayal, but the convenience of bringing Death Grips’ innovative and destructive sound to a potentially wider audience is, at the very least, a positive thing. Love major labels. Love Death Grips.