Album Review: Death Grips – The Money Store

[Epic; 2012]

Trying to be objective about something that comes entirely down to personal taste can be a challenge. For music that is clearly going to do something different for everybody, it really seems needless to quantify how you think everyone is going to feel. The rules of basic personal preference will hold especially true for Death Grips’ The Money Store. At its very core, it’s an album constructed to offend, unsettle, divide and push the envelope. Everything from MC Ride’s dilapidated lyrics to the supercharged effects that squeeze their way through walls of distortion and grime is as stark and merciless as anything you’ll hear this year. And it’s exhilarating. Despite the unwelcoming persona, repeated listens will uncover an embarrassment of spine-tingling details and hidden corners that any headphone enthusiast will revel in.

The Money Store’s musical identity isn’t likely going to gain consensus, Death Grips paint with a mangled brush. MC Ride’s lyrics, which is the stuff that nightmares are made of more often than not, are nearly impossible to make out consistently behind all the harsh, heavy textures. Pieces of punk, dubstep and industrial are all folded into the mix. In loose terms, this could be described as a party record, but it’s also good if you need a soundtrack for dismantling your immediate surroundings in a particularly violent manner.

Death Grips’ best-known member outside of Death Grips is probably Zach Hill. Here he mans the production, along with Flatlander (Andy Morin), and his work with his other band Hella has no bearing here. You won’t recognize any traditional drum patterns within the maelstrom: they’re all scuffed up, syncopated, and sound like they are coming from inside a cave. That is when they don’t sound like they’re carrying an electric charge, like on “Lost Boys,” which thrashes, buzzes and clatters while Ride details life in the slums with a sublime anti-establishment swagger: “I’ll handle this/ On some scandalous/ Inland empire Los Angeles/ Anti-ego propaganda shit,” he screams. His gritty, grimy tales of a life on the edge take a while to separate from the music, but the imagery he evokes on a consistent basis is chilling.

It’s clear that Death Grips had no interest in alleviating the galvanizing effect this record is likely to have. The Money Store is not for everyone, and even people whom it is for may have difficulty settling in. With initial listens, it’s less what Ride actually says than it is how he says it. On “Black Jack,” Flatlander and Hill smear the vocals to the point they’re better understood as just another instrument. Opener “Get Got” has images of burning bibles, car crashes, self-mutilation and all-day benders, and they’re all rattled off with a beguiling sense of indifference. “Pigeon hole me get crucified,” Ride declares. The thundering electronics shapeshift at such a frantic pace that you won’t even have time to adjust. “Double Helix” takes an ourie, sped up vocal loop and mixes it in with Ride’s own processed muttering, and the frenetic tempo keeps things humming all the way through. Alternately, there are moments where the volume is all that matters: the cyclonic mayhem of “System Blower” actually makes it sound like your speakers are malfunctioning.

Despite their new major label backing, Death Grips haven’t softened their sound since last year’s Exmilitary. The pompous stomp of “I’ve Seen Footage” is probably the closest they come, but it’s just as raucous and greasy as it is upbeat and fun. “Hackers” is also a glorious nod to the past that simultaneously gazes into the future as it tilts the ground in the direction of the dance floor. In the song’s opening moments, MC Ride declares, “Gaga can’t handle this shit!” and he’s probably right. I said before that the words aren’t really the point, but on their own they still add more depth than you would ever expect from music this raw. It’s all dizzying and overwhelming, but the sheer brute strength of The Money Store stays tempered by a pervasive, unbridled sense of creativity.