Sound — 7
Death Grips formed in 2010 and began releasing music almost immediately after, beginning with their first EP (a self-titled release) and a mixtape by the title of "Exmilitary," both in 2011. The first two albums were both released in 2012 - "The Money Store" and "No Love Deep Web." Their previous early release of "No Love Deep Web" mirrors approximately what happened with "Government Plates," as the band uploaded the album to file sharing sites as well as put the music on SoundCloud for free. Their early release of "No Love Deep Web" actually resulted in their previous record label - Epic Records - dropping them in November of 2012. "Government Plates" will be released under the band's own record label, Third Worlds Records. Of the band members, which includes Zach Hill (percussion, production), "Flatlander" Morin (synth, production), and Stefan Burnett a.k.a. "MC Ride," Zach Hill is the only member known for other projects, as he has collaborated extensively with other artists and is possibly most well-known for his work as a co-founder of Hella. The track "Birds" was released as a single for "Government Plates" earlier this year in mid-August. "Government Plates" has 11 tracks and clocks in at just under 36 minutes. The album opens up with the track "You Might Think He Loves You for Your Money but I Know What He Really Loves You for It's Your Brand New Leopard Skin Pillbox Hat," with the title being a loose reference to a Bob Dylan track. The energy that this track comes out the gate with is extraordinary. "Anne Bonny" is next up, and has much more of a "house music" feel to it at first, but builds up to have some rather interesting things going on with the beat. "Two Heavens" is up next, and has a really interesting thing going on with cadence and tempo. "This is Violence Now (Don't Get Me Wrong)" is up next, and this may have been a turning point in the album for me as well. I'm used to previous Death Grips releases pulling me in more and more as the album progresses, but I wasn't really feeling this track too much. Next up is the single, "Birds," which is one of the more intense tracks on the album and got me really excited about the rest of the album again. "Feels Like a Wheel" has an intro like tribal music played by a robot, and while this is definitely a quirky track it still had me tapping my foot. "I'm Overflow" is next up, and this is possibly one of the least engaging songs on the album for me, personally. The almost a cappella verses were mildly redeeming of the overall total track, however. "Big House" is next up, and this track is possibly one of my favorites for the album but I'm not sure I could articulate why - I just enjoy the percussion and the vocal cadence on this one. Next up is the track "Government Plates," which is really skirting the line between noise and music quite closely. At the end of the track I couldn't say how I really felt about it, but with subsequent listens it grew on me a little bit. "Bootleg (Don't Need Your Help)" is up next and this is definitely suffering from a lack of vocals by MC Ride. The album closes out with the track "Whatever I Want (F--k Who's Watching)," which is by far the longest track on the album, clocking in at over 6 minutes. This track is like the magnum opus of noise on this album, and was really hard for me to get into. The majority of the album I really enjoyed, but found a few tracks beyond my scope.
Lyrics — 7
MC Ride is definitely the glue that holds the "noise" of Flatlander and Zach Hill together, and even so his verses are borderline nonsensical in a way that works surprisingly well with the "noise" of Death Grips' beats. What works for Death Grips is that MC Ride's vocals are very raw, and delivered in an almost primal scream. The processing, when used on the vocals, is very extreme as part of the overall sense of what the Death Grips are aiming for. As a sample of the lyrics from the album, here are some from the single, "Birds:" "I've got a bluebird/ It might die/ It got wetted/ I stayed dry/ I'm not trying to use my mind/ I got that attitude at all times/ I've got this attitude at all times/ I got a black cat/ It might live/ It's got a black hat/ It goes big/ I had a bluebird, now it's dead." As another sample of the lyrics from the album, here are some from the track "You Might Think He Loves You for Your Money but I Know What He Really Loves You for It's Your Brand New Leopard Skin Pillbox Hat:" "I hover above you/ Life pulled out your mouth/ I become you/ Opening of the mouth/ Unlawful possession/ Jellyfish in cold sweat deep end/ Hollow shell twitch disconnection/ Pupils swell/ My entrance/ Hijacked no questions asked/ Stretch you on like latex mask/ My sigils your epitaph/ Come come fuck apart in here i die/ I'm not you/ Fear/ You wear it well/ Mademoiselle/ Here's to your destiny/ Hysterics scream help/ Don't worry in a few you'll all be somewhere else/ Prepare yourselves/ Freelance motherf--ker." The lyrical style of MC Ride, which is somewhere between surrealism and stream of consciousness, really works for Death Grips and gels the music together rather well.
Overall Impression — 7
When I discovered Death Grips earlier this year it was really a pretty big experience for me, as it gave me new hope in hip-hop music in general. While I still found "Government Plates" to be enjoyable, it was not the release that my previous listening experience with the Death Grips had hyped me for. While the album really came across as only a half-effort by the band, it is still better than a lot of hip-hop that has released this year, so I guess I can't complain too much - I just had really high expectations for this album. For those who are checking out Death Grips for the first time, I would strongly recommend that you listen to their previous releases as well to get a better point of reference. Also, the band released a music video for every single track on the album, so that is definitely worth checking out.