There’s not a lot of bands who can blur the line between the acute and obtuse like Death Grips. The trio’s immediate sonic abrasion combined with its source material—violence, drug abuse, and just a whole lot of sinning—suggest an animalistic sense of self-gratification, while its actions suggest some attempted thought provocation. Death Grips’ absence in scheduled concerts would be considered dickish in most other scenarios, but the punk context and the abstraction of their persona suggest there’s a reason behind the dickery.
Well, at least the music is good. By “good,” we’re saying that it forces some sort of reaction—whether it’s laudatory or vitriol. The Money Store, last year’s critical hit, had Death Grips twisting their raw excess into a densely produced project, combining murderous percussion and distressing synths in a package that was surprisingly catchy at points. Their follow-up No Love Deep Web was stripped down when it came to the instrumentals, but MC Ride’s “I’m trying to survive but I’m dying die with me” on “World of Dogs” was one of the moments that made it clear this is a couple of hundred leagues of deep sea-level darkness. If we were to place Government Plates somewhere in between the No Love Deep Web-The Money Store spectrum, it would place closer toward the latter. Government Plates isn’t as layered as The Money Store, nor does it reach the heights, but it removes itself from the abyss of No Love Deep Web for a more in-your-face, tangible rage.
Government Plates is Death Grips at their most blistering, as the album moves in mostly two-three minute sprints. It all comes in a little over 35 minutes, and while it doesn’t reach epic heights, Government Plates is a notable turn for the ruffians because it feels more of this world than its predecessors. If Death Grips represent the nether regions of the World Wide Web, than this album is the districts’ siege and destruction of the culture it archives.
This seek-and-destroy aesthetic is tipped off right from the opening track—“You might think he loves you…” It starts off with this spacy siren that doubles as an alarm to listeners, but not so much for MC Ride, whose sanity is already crumbling as he melds his yelps and barks (or MC Ride “rapping”). “Come come fuck apart in here/I die in the process/You die in the process,” he screams. We’re already at destructive extremes, and Government Plates is Death Grips sonic enjoyment of the decomposition of everything around them.
Convention is the enemy here, but what’s interesting is how Death Grips contorts it instead of repelling it. “Anne Bonny” features a shimmery, inviting arpeggio for its hook as MC Ride straight up chants “Fuck the deal is/Fuck kill steal shit.” The rest of the track plays out like an alternative, more surreal vision of trap hip-hop, with bass that feels more pulsating combined with howls and staccato delivery that feels more nihilistic. More bone-chilling. The rave culture reconfigured in “This is Violence Now (Don’t get me wrong)” feels just like its title suggest—sonic violence. Even one of the album’s weaker songs, “Birds”, presents the world with a tilt. The track describes the contrast of inward and outward appearance with a tipsy, guitar-ish break that sounds like something a maddened “Loser”-era Beck would pull.
Government Plates then moves into a blissful-by-comparison second half. “Feels Like Wheels” has what sounds like praiseful foreign vocals to mark what feels like a breather, while the glitchy cuts “Government Plates” and “Big House” are bustling with bubbling effects mixed with face-melting breakdowns for good measure. They’re decent, but along with the slow collapse of “Bootleg (Dont need your help)”, it all feels like a build up for when whatever glimmer of sanity present dissipates in “Whatever I want (Fuck who’s watching)”. This isn’t a reinterpretation of modern culture, an imposition of solipsistic ideas, or any sort of “ation”s or “ism”s. This is dystopia. Nothing is built right here, but the debris is thrown at you at skin-shredding speed. The backwards drums and the time-breaking effect that backs it has the mind-freezing, soul-burning effect of a Medusa. Everything else around it moves at a traumatic speed. Death Grips have crossed musical structure and into bedlam.
All this occurs within 35 minutes, and despite getting their skulls figuratively bashed in by MC Ride’s urgent barks, the relentless of Zach Hill’s percussions, and the hallucinogenic nature of Andy “Flatlander” Morin’s production work, listeners are left hitting replay as well. Not because of its easy length, but because of Government Plates’ immediate awards. It’s hellish, but this is an occasion where Death Grips aren’t so challenging.