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Death Grips are back, although it's doubtful that they ever left at all. Their newest project, Jenny Death, coupled with their 2014 release, Niggas on the Moon, has completed their ambitious double album The Powers That B, which is undoubtedly their most complete and powerful project yet; full of experimental, hard hitting sounds and concepts that fans have come to both love and expect.
Jenny Death is unique in that its two halves are very distinct and separate from one another with the first half, entitled Niggas on the Moon being an experimental, spacey album; and Jenny Death, its counterpart, being more of a hard hitting trigger pull that fans have come to expect from past albums like The Money Store and No Love Deep Web. Together the two albums create a strange sort of sonic yin yang for the band, as they embody and embrace their two very different sounds and styles. Their differences compliment each other quite well, as the power of Jenny Death is highlighted by the airiness of Niggas on the Moon.
As stated before, Niggas on the Moon brings about a very spacey and slightly glitchy vibe to Death Grips. The entirety of the instrumentation on this album is done by drummer Zach Hill on his virtual drum kit, including Bjork samples, who's original vocals are heard throughout Niggas. She's used very liberally here, with producer Andy "Flatlander" Morrin playing with her voice to a point were she can sound more like an instrument than a voice at times. Her samples definitely add a unique tone to parts of the album, especially the stellar opening track "Up My Sleeves" where her eerie laughing and howls create an entrapping vibe and a great introduction.
The rest of Niggas on the Moon flows very well since a majority of the tracks here lack any sort of outro, allowing them to seamlessly flow into one another. This keeps the pace swift, but can also keep the album difficult to keep track of, as songs will easily slip past you before they even make themselves known. This isn't to say that there aren't memorable moments within Niggas; "Have a Sad Cum," "Voila," and "Fuck Me Out" all stand out and keep this experimental project from running together. Interestingly enough, Death Grips has continued with what they were doing on their 2013 album, Government Plates by heavily distorting and cutting Stefan Burnett's (also known as MC Ride) vocals, often treating them as instruments within tracks; which helps to establish the glitchy and experimental vibe presented here.
Due to this experimental nature, Niggas on the Moon can be very inaccessible on a first listen, especially to new listeners. This is an album that relies heavily on rhythms and beats, often lacking any sort of melody at all. That being said, the amount of work put in to make each song feel complete and whole makes Niggas a solid part of The Powers That B, even if it overshadowed by its immensely powerful counterpart.
Despite their abstract and experimental first disc, Death Grips have not forgotten how to kick their listener's teeth out, as exemplified in the ferocious second half of their double album, Jenny Death. Here the group discards the experimental nature from Niggas, and takes a much more direct approach. The songs on Jenny Death are hard hitting and animalistic; and at times even claustrophobic with their intensity. Nearly every track could be considered a standout, and each one brings its own power and rawness to the table. "Inanimate Sensation" is a primal, synth driven descent into insanity, while "Pss Pss" is a grimy, sex piece that has Burnett go from yelling to whispering in a moment.
For the most part, Jenny Death is where we expect Death Grips instrumentally; with Zach Hill once again behind an acoustic kit and Flatlander dropping in wonky synths and unnerving samples. What's relatively new here is the inclusion of original guitar parts, contributed by Nick Reinhart of Tera Melos. These driving riffs add a new dimension to the already intricate music, as Death Grips once again bends and twists different genres into their own grotesque and beautiful creations. And while not being what some would consider "dance music," there are tracks in here that blur the line between underground hip hop and club music. Instrumentation is lush and catchy, often rising and falling to create incredible crescendos, using Burnett's frantic and disturbed vocals to drive the songs forward.
In terms of vocals and lyrics, Jenny Death exhibits some of Burnett's best. He sounds enraged and powerful here, and his inhuman screams are often heard in the background of songs. Lyrically he's also putting out some of his most personal and meaningful work. While mostly cryptic, Burnett opens up during the penultimate track, "On GP," about suicidal thoughts and urges. Themes like these aren't necessarily new for Burnett, who is very well known for his morbid lyrics, but the personal spin put on it creates new meaning:
"Last night, three thirty in the morning death on my front porch"
"He turns around hands me his weapon
"He slurs, 'Use at your discretion
"It's been a pleasure, Stefan' "
Jenny Death does stumble though, "Beyond Alive" fails to live up to the songs that surround it, ultimately becoming a forgettable filler piece, and the closing track, "Death Grips 2.0" lacks any sort of substance or progression. An instrumental piece, the song simply repeats itself for its much too long three minutes. While it may elude to a "new era" of the band, it doesn't fit into the style of Jenny Death and ends The Powers That B on a low note.
The Powers That B is a sum of its parts, half an experimental endeavor, half a terrifying, angry portrait. The outcome is a monstrous piece, one that that has us questioning what the guidelines are for album, and reminding us that art isn't always a pretty picture.