Tag Archives: Punk

Death Grips – Government Plates

Reviewing Death Grips is really, really difficult.

Well alright, maybe it isn’t difficult, but it might be ridiculous and unnecessary. Any discussion of Death Grips as a musical.. project.. thing is bound to be nested in a description of the sorts of sounds Death Grips actually produce, and an assessment as to whether they’re getting better or worse. You know, like a review – and that’s fine! I like doing reviews! But when it comes down to whether or not I can recommend Death Grips’ new album – the free-online double-entendre Government Plates – it’s largely going to be a factor of whether or not MC Ride, his perma-furious DJ Andy Morin, and drummer Zach Hill are making sequenced sounds you already enjoy, or you know to enjoy because it’s cool to like Death Grips right now, or whether you can appreciate them as an aesthetic entity (if not necessarily a musical one). All three are valid access routes to Death Grips these days, and the band does nothing to dissuade  it – have you seen MC Ride? – and so I feel the necessity to look at the band all three ways, and attempt to parse out what might be going on here musically. Or aesthetically.

That said, this is the MC Ride hype train, and in the spirit of whatever-this-genre-is it feels appropriate to go straight for the throat and get the tl;dr out of the way immediately: Government Plates is a solid addition to the canon. It’s also short, blistering, blood-curdling, increasingly synth-y, sarcastic, free online, unbalanced, and intensely free on the internet. If you’re a fan of these guys, you’ve already bled the MP3’s dry and you’re waiting for your next fix and maybe secretly hoping we can get back to Exmilitary‘s nigh hardcore-punk pacing, lyrical acuity and Vancouver skate-punk music videos (that’d be me). You’d be the ones reading this just to see how I talk my way around having to talk about Death Grips, and checking whether or not my punk cred is going to see any revival after that Lady Gaga review last week. Fair enough! The rest of the review is for anyone else that’s wondering what the hell the deal is, whether or not MC Ride is an MC and therefore this is a rap crew, and why I’m taking so much time getting to the review portion.

This part’s for those people in the latter category.

Wikipedia says “Death Grips is a hip hop group from Sacramento”, which is a charitable and fun way of saying they definitely use beats, and MC Ride’s first name is “MC”. Death Grips cleave closer to something like alternative Hip-Hop attempting to appropriate melodic Industrial while keeping one eye firmly and secretly locked on the club dance floor. At their most accessible (that’d be “I’ve Seen Footage“) they sound like an extremely antagonistic Primal Scream therapy session featuring a Skinny Puppy fan for a DJ and a drummer whose only obvious musical alliance is technical acrobatics. At their least accessible, they sound like someone threw some screws into a washing machine. Along with their pit bull. Sometimes there are guitars; they once let a girl sing. They have trouble showing up to live shows and obeying contracts. One of their album covers is very banned. One Death Grips performance famously consisted of a children’s drum set, their music played through the PA, and a fan’s suicide note. So to say the group values their reputation would be an understatement: they’ve crafted a unique folk appeal by virtue of incredible bizarrity, having no clear musical parallel, and remaining utterly and completely true to their murkily-articulated, libertine philosophy. Fashionable.

So it’s easy to understand why they’ve curried such appeal with their young fan base – MC Ride is fearless, black and coated in arcane symbols and gang signs. His two white accomplices are absurdly talented and musically unheralded in turn. Their music lacks a clear lyrical message beyond rage, paranoia, confusion and isolation – MC Ride doesn’t speak so much as bellow constantly, and his vocal production intentionally obscures  most anything beyond blind, frightening anger at any given moment. They transcend race, they transcend clear imagery or context or politics (beyond, of course, anarchy) – they’re punk as hell, and I’m sure they hate punk music. These boys came out of nowhere, and appropriately they sound like nothing else   – though Yeezus certainly took a shot at it.

Government Plates makes no moves to dislodge Death Grips’ carefully-constructed reputation, though they certainly seem self-aware enough to poke fun at their own superior impulse-control issues (the final track being “Whatever I Want (Fuck Who’s Watching)”). That said, it does push their song construction forward: where previous releases would occasionally deign to hard-rock architecture (The Money Store) or smack of punk (Exmilitary), Government Plates takes Death Grips even further down their own strange road of musical anarchy. Morin’s synthesizers are in full force, several tracks are downright danceable, featuring as close as Death Grips ever come to softer breakdowns (on “Anne Bonny” and the final track). “Feels Like A  Wheel” gave me flashbacks to KMFDM and My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult (on guitars, at least). “Birds” even gives us a lurking MC Ride reciting poetry over a shrill, oscillating klaxon, in between drum breakdowns.
MC Ride is more subdued on Government Plates than usual as well, relegated primarily to audio loops with his trademark beatdown-delivery checked for the majority the album’s second half – leaving DJ Morin to take centre stage. He does a respectable job, too, though for many by premise Death Grips’ affinity for unbalanced percussion loops and shrill everything will prove too much within the album’s opening moments. There are fantastic beats here, though – “Big House” is frenetic, bass-heavy and nearly club-ready, “Whatever I Want” has sparkling synths that only serve to unnerve further, “Birds” plays with softer guitar tones in a way Death Grips isn’t yet known for. He’s pushing things forward, certainly, and deserves credit for it.

That said, despite repeated listens Government Plates can’t help but feel somewhat sapped, for me at least. Perhaps this is the result of a couple years of DG fandom (and one insane live show), but the shrill-synth well seems to be running dry for me – and a further focus on that musical direction detracts somewhat from the freneticism that drew me to Death Grips in the first place. In order to stay this angry, you have to keep amped, and if that energy should run out, you need something beneath it. Preferably not, exclusively, sometimes headache-inducing synths (“Birds“). There’s a question of whether or not Death Grips can do this. Government Plates is a solid musical release, absolutely, and a respectable and appropriately-experimental addition to bizarro-Hip-Hop canon, but it fails to energize in the way their previous releases did. Whether this is a result of their growth as a group, a lessening of their rage, or a blossoming maturity remains to be seen. That said, I’m certainly excited to see what comes next as experimentation (or breakup) seems inevitable for the Sacramento trio at this point. Three things are for certain, though: Death Grips will remain an absolute cultural force to their devotees, a literal headache for their detractors, and a fascinating aesthetic exercise in the meanwhile.

B

Reviewed right here, November 2013. 

Advertisements
Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The Bronx – The Bronx

The Bronx are a Hardcore Punk band out of Los Angeles. Their latest album, The Bronx, comes on the tail of three previous LPs, all named The Bronx. They also run a (surprisingly great) Mariachi side-project called, well, Mariachi El Bronx, whose releases number Mariachi el Bronx and Mariachi el Bronx, respectively. Bronx Bronx Bronx. Now while we wait for semantic overload to sink in and ruin that word forever, I’ll say straight-up that their latest The Bronx came as a pleasant surprise to me. There’s a problem endemic to reviewing this sort of Punk music, and the oddly non-New-York-based Bronx’s obsession with their own name sort of digs at it: yes there’s the pride, the absolute working-class DIY love of the thing, but there’s also the major caveat that every Punk band sooner or later has to face: the looming threat of repetition. The vastness of the genre, the shadow of the thousands of bands that have come before, very much in the same vein, very much in love with the craft and the raw simplicity that is so often Punk. It’s enough to give a man expectations, and it’s the sort of thing that makes hardcore Punk divisive: it’s either going to fit you like an old, holed glove, or you’re going to reject every part of it like the smelly old sock it basically is. Now that’s not to say that Punk hasn’t exploded creatively over the years – and of course it has, it started creatively – but not every record needs to be David Comes to Life. We can’t dine on genre-pushers like Jane Doe and Chimerical Bombination every day of the week and we don’t have to: there’s always going to be a place for that raw energy, that simplicity. Portraits of working-class pride, desperation, giving in to temptation, empowering oneself through sheer, independent force of will – there’s always going to be a place in Punk for that sort of thing, fueled by a few guys with guitars and drums and one or two that happen to yell a lot. That’s what The Bronx is here to do, and they get that feel right. If reviews of Hardcore Punk are by necessity a little more passion-based, a little less wordy and technical than (my) other reviews can get, well that’s just fine: I liked it.

The Bronx is a straightforward album, and that’d be more of a weakness if they weren’t talented songwriters. The album opens on “The Unholy Hand” and the energy is undeniable; the band’s on fire, there’s a great sense of motion we’ll encounter later on the supremely awakening “Youth Wasted”. “Are you the Antichrist or the Holy Ghost?/Do you wanna die or just come real close?” vocalist Matt Caughthran screams over the chugging riffs below. “The Unholy Hand” drops like a bombshell, and the production is as full and lush as we can ask for this sort of thing – without ever threatening that critical raw charge we love so much in Punk. Turn it up. We’ll hear that razor’s-edge energy again on “Under the Rabbit” where Caughthran gives up the simple and sharp “This is the best life my money can buy!” He’s got a workmanlike dedication to that yell and you’ll become real familiar with it over the following 40 minutes, in all its yelps and strains.  Thankfully he’s got the chops and variety to make it work – “Youth Wasted” and “Too Many Devils” have downright sing-along-friendly choruses, and The Bronx is frequently more melodically savvy than I’d come in expecting, even if the lyrics aren’t likely to surprise you. Is it party music? It sure is – whichever songs aren’t about standing up for yourself are about getting through the tough times in between (or failing to), and the album only slows twice: for “Torches” (a vaguely surreal take on the inspirational number, and surprisingly poetic) and “Life Less Ordinary” (the album’s obvious misstep and token slow song, a clean-sung number about feeling weird being the center of attention at a party. Or a rockstar.)

All in all The Bronx a party record, with flashes of sobriety and depression enough to stay relatable in the way so much blue-collar Punk aspires to be. I said it about Monotonix and I’ll say it here: this is music to spill beers and kiss girls to, with a touch more reflection that usual. No moulds are broken; it isn’t complicated and it doesn’t want to be. The argument can be made that there isn’t a ton of depth (a charge we can level at a lot of Hardcore Punk), and I suppose there isn’t, though the flashes of lucidity do much to lift The Bronx above amateur status and there’s an earnestness to their delivery that is, at its best, ruggedly inspiring. They’ve been doing this a while – The Bronx (x4) and Mariachi el Bronx (x2) can all attest to that – and this latest The Bronx certainly fits the canon. Don’t dig too deep, don’t expect a musical magnum opus, but you’ll have fun: The Bronx are a pleasant surprise and a boot in the ass. I bet their shows are a blast.

7.5

Reviewed right here the day of its release: February 5th, 2013. 

This album is new enough not to actually have any videos. And so enjoy Mariachi El Bronx there in the second slot.

Tagged , , , , ,

The Misfits – The Devil’s Rain

In 1977 Glenn Danzig combined some buddies, an imagination fuelled on horror-movies and comics, and a penchant for writing brutally catchy punk/metal music to form The Misfits, the original Horrorpunk band. Six years later, he dissolved the group, leaving an enormous impact on metal music – and his fans to deal with the fallout. Danzig brought authenticity and brutality to his pop-soaked horror-imagery, approaching his subject matter with a seriousness and starkness that the revived band’s revolving-door of singers has perpetually struggled to resurrect ever since. On The Devil’s Rain, as on every release since The Misfits’ comeback in 1997, we’re dealing with a very different band.

Original bassist Jerry Only writes the lyrics now, and since 2003’s surprisingly successful 50’s cover album Project 1950 he’s been in charge of vocals as well. This doesn’t necessarily spell doom for the band: while he lacks the charisma and force of Danzig’s Elvis-wail or even the latter (teenage!) Michael Grave’s energy, Only’s voice is serviceable: somewhere between a shout and a croon, honed over decades of backup singing, though TheMisfits clearly suffers without its trademark vocal frenzy. Only is aware of his success on Project 1950, and it shows in his affinity for sustained harmonies and song-structures that hew remarkably closely to their Project 1950 precursors (of which the extremely pop-y “Monkey’s Paw” ends up a standout track). When his vocals hit their mark, Only’s only major problem (and by extension that of the band) is a lack of ingenuity: at best The Devil’s Rain chugs along consistently, a fine companion to that post-Hallowe’en party of yours. At its worst, whichever songs don’t repeat themselves ad nauseum (“It’s cold in hell!” x 18), sound nearly identical, and not in a “well-alright-it-is-Punk” way, but as more of a “oh-right-these-guys-play-in-Osaka-Popstar” variety of boggling tempo and chord repetition.

Then again, there’s a solid chance none of this will bother you: anyone exclusively a post-formation Misfits fan is likely to find more than enough to enjoy here (and can probably increase that score a little). Only takes more joy in playing with classic horror tropes than he  does getting all worked up and angry, and that’s perfectly alright – the result is simply a lukewarm band more suited to playing over Hallowe’en barbecues than mosh pits.

C+

Originally published in The Peak, November 2011. 

Tagged , , , ,