I love comparisons. Comparisons, whether apt or thin, whether true or not, are often revealing (sorry). So with this release from Death Grips (part one of two, btw), which features Björk on all eight of its tracks, I’m prepared to make a comparison to BEBETUNE$’ inhale C-4 $$$$$ for the uncompromising use of space — or perhaps, a lack of said space. Space and our relationship to it — in our body, in our mind, and with others around us — brazenly clashes or slyly wafts into Death Grips’ output. In fulfilling their musical aims of exploring the disintegration of perfection and subsequent degradation (sexually, mentally, or something more ineffable and profound), the trio of Stefan Burnett (MC Ride), Zach Hill, and Andy Morin (Flatlander) have plunged their listeners into a surreal, violent zone of controlled insanity — an obfuscated and asphyxiated version of hyperreality, if you will.
And this notion of severing connection and normality brings to the fore our weaknesses, our flaws, and ultimately that which makes us identifiable as people. The idea of art so alien that it allows us to be privy to our idiosyncratic bizarreness needn’t communicate in blunt condescension. As Death Grips demonstrate, while only three or four musical elements may be operating at any moment, the precision of their deconstruction and subsequent mathematical, maniacal reconnection would point toward the same fascinating but headache-inducing, exhausting nightmare of James Ferraro’s BEBETUNE$ if it weren’t so damn exhilarating. While this may not be MC Ride, Hill, and Flatlander (and perhaps Björk, for that matter) at their most deranged and debased either musically or lyrically, they’ve narrowed the confounding template of previous release Government Plates into a thrilling, dense, and, in true style, claustrophobic horror.
This being said, it’s not as if niggas on the moon is without any kind of contained refinement — lyrically, thematically, or musically. In fact, MC Ride hasn’t been this potent with his more reined-in deliveries since “Get Got.” NO LOVE DEEP WEB may have been an analogous Ride and Hill, dicks out, kicking heads around in the bathroom on that cover; and Government Plates may have been the eruption, the disintegration of all form and reason that Ride bottled up inside his barely-contained psychotic form on The Money Store. But on niggas on the moon, Ride is tightly bound — he’s no longer “spraying execution” or “flippin’ pentagrams” willy-nilly.
Nonetheless, this side of Ride is just as primal, as alluring, and as fucked as the old death classic, wrapped up in and only just obscured by the clipped doom surrounding him. He’s exotic, foreign (“Voila”), but transparent and chilling (“shadow stigmata”). On “Big Dipper” and “Fuck Me Out,” he’s no longer simply a “hobo-rapper,” but an aggressor, a dominator, a chained monster. He’s filthy, morose, but — suspiciously — alert and occasionally, unusually quiet — “Just don’t touch me/ Just fuck fuck me.” He purrs, he whimpers, he barks, he screams. In mythologizing a character so far outside of the norm, Ride has retreated inward to a greater degree than ever before. What’s prompted this change?
An unexpected but logical contribution to this shift is Björk’s vocals and their unflinching usage. It’s a wonderful “found object” to experience throughout the album, as my initial expectation was quite different from its final revelation. I mean, it’s to be assumed that such a revered voice would be used to its full melodic potential, or at least something that is at the center and of a discernible nature, right? However, both Björk’s and Ride’s voices are cut up and blurred, twisted and stuttered much in the manner of vaguer footwork production (think perhaps Gobby’s incredible rework of Drake on “Calumet,” but more deranged). And since Death Grips haven’t been shy about dismembering an assortment of voices on previous releases, parallels do emerge. Of course similarities to Government Plates are glaringly obvious due to their chronology, and that particular album’s unexpected left-turn from the trodden path in turn pushed them into defining a “Death Grips” experience more bizarre and bewitching than NO LOVE DEEP WEB’s addictive, confined mania.
Not content to allow the painful beauty of Björk’s vocal on “Have A Sad Cum” to reach its cadential conclusion, the group proceeds to meticulously transplant, dismember, and rearrange before smashing it between abstract bass thumps and drums (“real” and “synthesized”) over and over again in a math-rock drummer’s wet dream. This approach, heard throughout the majority of the album, would have a propensity toward a noisy, directionless mess — but of course, the through-composed nature of each minuscule detail, blip, and cough lends the work a confounding but thoroughly gratifying abstract narrative quality. Rather fittingly, it feels like it could become unbound and violently dissipate at any moment — looking back at the minimal extremism of “Guillotine,” the delirium of “Black Dice,” and the ever-unfolding zany doom of “Whatever I want (Fuck who’s watching),” it’s not hard to see how Death Grips would progress to completion of this potential objective — it’s not so much white-hot, acidic, and/or garish as it is plain bat-shit crazy, nasty, and chaotic.
And while I’ve maintained that Death Grips’ compositions are at their most intriguing and haunting (and consequently penetrative) when Ride goes fully off the crazy end of wherever the fuck he hangs out (“Come up and get me”), there’s a special quality to the tracks that deal simultaneously in Ride’s more subdued and extreme performances. On “Fuck Me Out,” Ride moves freely between his most seductive voyeur, aptly paranoia-riddled madman and his completely unstable berserker, with neither quite overpowering the other.
In establishing as close to a malleable persona as possible within the MC Ride individual, similar efforts on The Money Store (“Get Got,” “Double Helix”) chart familiar psychotic territory, but it’s not until this album that the recurring paranoia and schizophrenia, the imagined and disconnected violence, the rage, the pain, the depths of Ride’s existence are as arresting as on these tracks. On “Fuck Me Out” and “Billy Not Really,” both these dissections of Ride and the brutal rearrangements of Björk’s vocal and fidgety programming would push the ensemble’s rough, nasty but compelling sound to new levels if they hadn’t already perfected it on The Money Store. Instead, what is achieved on niggas on the moon is something that speaks differently but through the same terms.
But perhaps “speak” isn’t the right word in this context.
“Happy’s perfect, perfect’s tame/ Tame and cashmere go together/ Cashmere makes perfect better”