Death Grips’ latest record drives deeper into darkness

I recently read Death Grips’ now almost year-old interview with Pitchfork in which drummer and noise auteur Zach Hill demystified the big throbbing member on the cover of No Love Deep Web—which, at the time and considering the circumstances, seemed more like a giant and peevishly immature “fuck you” to Epic Records. “It really has to do with acceleration—culturally, on a world level—of sexuality in general, and getting past homophobia,” Hill said. “People should be able to look deeper into something rather than just seeing some dick. It’s also a spiritual thing; it’s fearlessness.”

Suddenly Death Grips bloomed anew for me, and maybe that’s why Government Plates feels like it’s the apex of their short career. I’ve always thought they’re a fascinating band—a bunch of capital-A artists, operating in the nadirs of the underground so often associated with nauseating ideals. The violence of punk, the homophobia and racism of power electronics, the xenophobia and purist hatred in black metal—in a way, it was astoundingly satisfying to know that Death Grips, at least in concept, rose above the machismo posturing of their ultraviolence, of their sexual depravity. To realize that what they’re making is art.

Their music is as hideous as ever—Stefan “MC Ride” Burnett said it best in the grinding hook to “Beware” off Exmilitary, effectively the group’s manifesto; “I light my torch and burn it/I am the beast I worship.” Death Grips are fascinated with the individual and the particular dark streams that feed into the ocean of human conscience, and that isn’t going to change any time soon.

The opening track, “You Think He Loves For Your Money But I Know What He Really Loves You For It’s Your Brand New Leopard Skin Pillbox Hat,” bursts in with the sound of shattering glass and Burnett barking “Get so fuckin’ dark in here/come come fuck apart in here.” It’s a two minute odyssey through the bleakest chasms of human sexuality—“Stretch you out like latex mask/My sigils your epitaph/come come fuck apart in here I die”—and Burnett’s frightening presence on the track (nevermind the deeply unnerving music video of him fading in and out of focus, flailing around, noided out of his mind) push it beyond being pure exhibitionism. The track drips with equal parts narcissistic sexual hedonism and genuine fear—it’s an uncompromising exploratory dive into depravity, and all the anxiety and self-loathing (or omniphobia, even) that comes with. And as an opener, it’s even better than “Beware,” and that’s saying something.

Even if we brush aside all the conception cohesion that only music nerds like me care about, it’s still an astounding achievement. This is what Kanye West’s Yeezus clearly wanted to sound but failed. It’s brief, to the point, rough as sharkskin and occasionally startlingly beautiful. The skeletal techno of “This Is Violence Now (Don’t Get Me Wrong),” the shockingly pretty guitar lines in stark single “Birds,” the long ambient bridges and laser-gun synchs of “Whatever I Want (Fuck Who’s Watching),” it all synthesizes into a gritty crock pot of high-brow ideas that just happens to be incredibly listenable.

Government Plates is less song focused than The Money Store and less textured than No Love Deep Web, instead choosing the road in between. It’s not only Death Grips most artistically accomplished work, it’s also their most immediately rewarding. All you skeptics, remember; don’t be scared of the dark, it’s just as scared of itself as you are, and maybe that’s the point.

Rating: A-

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