Government Plates - Death Grips
I’m not sure if I know of another artist who has been able to consistently surprise me four albums in a row. We began with the unparalleled wildness of Exmilitary, moving to the epic attempt at popular music with The Money Store, and then into the cold digitized world of No Love Deep Web. Each time there was a urge to label the group as hip hop, even though we were moving further and further from the land of Run-DMC. We willed it to be hip hop, we heard the rhythms on “Takyon” and “I’ve Seen Footage” and said it must be so. On top of that there was the constant confirmation from MC Ride, whose vocals were so ingrained in hip hop culture that it felt undeniable. But on Government Plates, all is lost. We’re in completely unmapped waters on the musical level, but that’s no longer a surprise for one of the most progressive groups around today. No, what makes this more divorced from the past than ever is that we’ve lost the one strand of continuity that kept us anchored with the group: We’ve lost rap. Yes, Death Grips, the group made famous through Ride’s unprecedentedly ugly rapping style has made a record which only has two or three songs with actual verses on it. What it’s replaced with are absolutely amazing distortions of all brands of electronic music, with usually nothing but a few phrases repeated liberally through each song. The way vocals are implemented on Government Plates has more to do with techno and house than it does hip hop. By minimizing the amount of lyrics they have to work with, they are forced to come up with more creative ways than ever to use them. This can be heard in the helium pitching of vocals in “Two Heavens” reminiscent of Gorillaz’ “Intro" the way his voice is contorted into melody on my personal favorite “This is Violence Now” or whatever is happening in the opening of “Birds.” Each song is inventive in this regard; although this is the least lyrical album yet, vocals are always one of the most intriguing elements here. Lyrics are still important however, if it weren’t for the words on “Fuck Who’s Watching,” I doubt I’d dance like such a loon when I hear the track. But for the most part, the voice has become integrated with its prominent function as instrument and Government Plates is all the more powerful for it.
As if this musical progression wasn’t enough, it is well known that we are graced with a music video for every single song on the record. Although visual albums have been made before, this is definitely my favorite; I am absolutely enamored with the majority of these videos. They take the uncanny 3D modeling of the Blendswap community and turn them into pure visual poetry. Although I’d imagine people would find this claim easy to argue with, I think that the videos here really do a great job expressing the alienation and warping of semiotics that comes out of living in the internet age. The flurry of green hearts that pour out of a faucet attached to nothing but black void on “I’m Overflow” would be a good example. That video is also a great representative of the album in that although it can (and should) be taken seriously, there’s a hilariously backward sense of humor to this album that isn’t easily apparent in the music alone. Things like the motion graphics (especially for the bubbles) along with the complete disregard for background environment that runs throughout these videos are quite funny. Death Grips often revel in the nihilist aspect of dealing with life’s darkness and it’s nice to get a more absurdist response to things here. Though DG might act as if they’d be sickened at the thought, I feel a real love for all their work, including this album. By mining deeper and deeper into the void and yet always returning with something to love, Death Grips yet again manage to show me humanity within the most macabre existentialism.