With their volatile brew of riotous rhythmic assaults, glitch-heavy electro dissonance, and shout-rapped lyrics that sound like they’ve been culled from the darkest corners of the Internet’s most obscene comments section, few contemporary acts have been more polarizing than Sacramento noise-rap trio Death Grips. To say nothing of the very public label disputes, graphic album covers, canceled tours, and no-shows that have threatened to overshadow the music itself. This is, as frontman MC Ride assures over an earsplitting fire-alarm synth in the opening moments of the band’s third album, Government Plates, “hard shit.”
The album is another fascinating, frustrating, full-throttle effort from Death Grips, the unlikely union of veteran drummer Zach Hill, producer Andy “Flatlander” Morin, and MC Ride (née Stefan Burnett). There’s no one making music quite like they are right now—though you can certainly point, as many have, to Kanye West’s Yeezus as evidence that some are trying. Government Plates doesn’t budge an inch from the vulgar, militant nihilism of 2012’s The Money Store or its follow-up, No Love Deep Web, self-released by the group last October in breach of its contract with Epic Records. “Fuck your idols, suck my dick,” is about as tame as Burnett’s lyrics come, his vocals pitched to the same crazed yawp as ever, or else being digitally pulverized by Hill and Morin.
Death Grips’ viral success and the anarchic atmosphere of their live shows are signs that the group has tapped into a rich vein of anger and disillusion among a generation whose future looks increasingly bleak. For as caustic as the Death Grips sound can be, like its predecessors, Government Plates is a mongrel stew of popular music’s most dominant genres, its choppy electronic textures and hip-hop beats pushed to the limits of cock-rock aggression. And what few fragments of Burnett’s screeds are intelligible hint at a contemporary, vaguely political edge to all his rage and alienation. “I’m a corporation,” he barks on the title track, over a panoply of corrosive industrial bleeps and a brutally distorted vocal loop: “Overlord, overlord, overlord.” Allusions to hacker and pirate culture abound, and it’s hard not to read the closing track’s repeated exhortations to “fuck who’s watching” as a middle finger directed at the U.S. government.
This is transgressive art at its rawest and most chaotic, postmodern punk for the millennial age, and its ferocity is both a strength and a weakness, primal and indiscriminate, deeply felt and totally irrational. “We’re not into lateral movement,” Burnett said in the aftermath of the No Love Deep Web fiasco. “We want to move forward.” It’s not entirely obvious that Government Plates meets that standard; nothing here would sound remotely out of place on any other Death Grips album, and none of it will convert any unbelievers. It’s unclear how long Burnett, Hill, and Morin can survive on the strength of their flame-throwing iconoclasm alone, but in a revolution, moving forward often requires burning down what’s standing in your way.