Press Play 3/29/15: Lords of the Game

A Death Grips ‘postmortem’

Conor Battles, Editor-in-Chief, Arts & Entertainments Editor

As I’m writing this, I am midway through my third listen to Death Grips’ Jenny Death.
It’s a moment I had begun to think I would never see. Historically speaking, Death Grips is known for their empty promises and red herrings.
Since their formation in 2010, they have been one of music’s biggest mysteries. Their sound, a schizophrenic blend of Rage Against the Machine’s rap-rock aggression; Trent Reznor’s hellish, industrial soundscapes; and a hardcore punk aesthetic; is unlike anything before or since. Frontman MC Ride’s shamanistic stage presence and cryptic lyricism, combined with Zach Hill’s pounding drums and Andy “Flatlander” Morin’s intense production combined to make Death Grips one of the most exciting (and challenging) bands of the decade.
But from the start, Death Grips has been about much more than the music. After their critically acclaimed 2012 debut LP The Money Store was released independently, Epic Records signed them to release their followup. Not content to allow the label to control them, Death Grips launched a lengthy online puzzle that had fans searching through the infamous “Deep Web” to find scattered clues about the album’s release date. To top it off, they leaked the album, the appropriately-titled No Love Deep Web, online themselves, featuring an unexpected (and inappropriate) change in cover art to further spite the label. The gambit worked, and Epic dropped them weeks later, allowing the band to continue to publish independently.
That mentality, the anarchic nature of Death Grips as both a band and a display of performance art, continued to influence their development. They became notorious for their live performances. Their shows were raw, primal, and above all, spellbinding – when they bothered to show up to them. 2013’s Government Plates took their sound in bolder new direction, opting for a heavy electronic influence. The first half of The Powers That B, their latest release, is even stranger: every song on the album is composed mostly of Hill’s drumming and vocal samples of Icelandic singer-songwriter Björk.
Following the release of the first half of The Powers That B, Death Grips announced their retirement last July, cancelling all scheduled live dates and simply stating that the second half of the album would still arrive – eventually.
Since the announcement, things haven’t exactly been all quiet. A mysterious Twitter account purporting to be the band has sporadically posted hints about the band’s future, going so far as to say they would be going on tour. In January, the all-instrumental Fashion Week was released as a surprise gift to fans, as well as poking fun at their obsession over the band’s status.
    Which brings us to Jenny Death. This is the fabled second act of The Powers That B, and three listens later, it was worth the wait. It’s yet another huge departure sonically. Heavy, distorted guitar replaces the synthesizers and Björk samples that dominated the first half. If this truly is to be the last new Death Grips, it is a worthy swan song.
But Death Grips is hardly known for doing the expected. Theirs is a legacy that is still very much open for continuation, and if this bold new sound is any indication, we may well hear more from music’s strangest trio.