Sound — 8
Death Grips formed in 2011, made up of MC Ride, Zach Hill and Andy Morin aka Flatlander. Since that time they have been releasing albums with lightning speed, with "The Powers That B" being their sixth album in 4 years to be released. The first half of the album is "N-ggas on the Moon," was released digitally for free in June 2014 and contains vocal samples of Bjork on every single track. There are eight tracks and it clocks in at over 31 minutes. The second half of the double album is "Jenny Death," and was released in March and contains 10 tracks with a runtime of just under 50 minutes. I will spend much less of the review on "N-ggas on the Moon" since it has been out for almost a year at this point.
"N-ggas on the Moon" was recorded completely with a Roland V-Drum kit by Zachary Hill, with Ride providing the vocals as normal. The standout tracks from the first half of this double album would be "Voila" and "Big Dipper." Every song on "N-ggas on the Moon" contains samples of Bjork's vocals, though they've been mangled beyond all recognition. The weak point of "N-ggas on the Moon" is that the songs sound very similar to each other. At times it feels like the band is just repeating the formula that has previously worked for them. I was initially fairly upset until I heard the second half of the album, "Jenny Death."
"Jenny Death" is a completely different type of album, with contributions by Nick Reinhardt on guitar and Julian Imsdahl on organ. The second half opens up with the track, "I Break Mirrors With My Face in the United States," which immediately reminds me of the energy of the Death Grips earliest releases. "Inanimate Sensation" opens up with some weird vocal sounds and builds up to a sudden breakdown with Ride breathing deeply before going into an awesomely abstract verse. "Turned Off" opens up with a guitar riff, rife with fuzz/distortion and reverb. When Ride's verses come in the music has got to an intense place. "Why a B-tch Gotta Lie" opens up with some manic laughing and screaming and some mangled vocals mixed in for good measure, and some of my favorite drumming and instrumentation on the album. A vocoder effect is used to create a robot-like vocal effect on much of the song. "Pss Pss" is built on a synth line and a basic repeating drum pattern with a verse by Ride pretty much right out the gate. Ride really starts to get out of his comfort zone on this track. The title track, "The Powers That B," just showcases Ride doing what he does at his best. "Beyond Alive" opens up with some organ, guitar and drums but goes pretty quick into some weird synth and a frantic verse. At times throughout this track it almost sounds like a rock track from the early '70s, or some space-based prog rock. "Centuries of Damn" opens up sounding like the soundtrack from old martial arts movies, but it grows from that into something truly interesting, musically, and Ride's verses are interesting as usual. "On GP" opens up like a straight up rock song, which is definitely something different for Death Grips, but in conjunction with Ride's verses it turns it into something completely different. Zach's drumming is also at a high point on this track. The album closes out with "Death Grip 2.0," an instrumental track, which by the title is possibly some kind of clue to the future of the band, especially after they announced their disbandment.
Lyrics — 9
Ride's verses are always abstract and manic, and that continues with this album. It is hard to even rate this in any kind of normal way, so I'm not really going to try. I'll say that Ride's voice and cadence are definitely part of the high points of this album. As a sample of his lyrics, here is a verse and chorus from "Centuries of Damn": "F--k the sun, f--k its kind/ Daylight sucks, waste of mine/ I f--k my mind, narrow my mind/ I bide my time like f--k in place/ One day, I'll wave sun to ice/ Watch its kind get thrown like rice/ My cackle stretch out like thunder/ So f--king loud, it's vulgar/ I pull my face out the dirt slow/ These days I only wake up third of the way, narco/ Held to deep rapid eye move, hold/ These days I recede, rapid I reload/ Gun my chances closed road, no road left to travel." I definitely can't find anything to complain about with Ride's vocals or lyrics.
Overall Impression — 8
Looking at "The Powers That B," I found that I really enjoyed "Jenny Death" and felt like it was some of the best work I've ever heard from Death Grips, but listening to "N-ggas on the Moon," I felt like that was some of the weakest material I've ever heard. I definitely enjoyed the tracks on "Jenny Death" that included more guitar and organ, and really sounded different than most of Death Grips previous material, while Ride has only upped his game.