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Death Grips: The Money Store
As we edge closer to impending doom, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to come across something truly original. The lawlessness of post-modernism rules and all that’s really left is the tatters of the irrational, the illogical and the absurd – something that the members of California threesome, Death Grips, seem to have engrained in their spirits.
An attempted explanation of Death Grips’ second album, The Money Store, might feature an arrangement of the terms hip-hop, experimental, hardcore, industrial and, most significantly, chemical imbalance in the brain.
This is a project that owes all of its originality to the collaboration of three quite different musical practitioners whose shared anarchical values have brought them together to create something truly unholy.
Attacking their instruments as you would an enemy, drummer Zach Hill and versatile utility man Andy Morin are responsible for the aesthetics, but it’s the bearded, flail-limbed vocalist that gives The Money Store its soul. Stefan Burnett, affectionately known in some circles as MC Ride, is nothing short of a whirlwind. There’s not one song on The Money Store that doesn’t leave you feeling bowled over and, quite frankly, a little nauseous. But like so many comforting pills, you keep going back for more.
The first twenty seconds of opening track ‘Get Got’ tells you all you need to know; aggressive bongo beats are bridged to a distorted guitar loop and sharp drum-line by a monotone rap: "Get get get get, got got got got/Blood rush to my head, they hot like/Poppin’ off the f*ckin’ block knot/Clockin’ wrist slit now watch me top off" – the nonsense ramblings of a mad man, maybe, but the brilliance is in the fact that it could mean anything or nothing.
Songs like ‘Lost Boys’ and ‘Bitch Please’ have layers that are influenced by early Wu Tang Clan, while others such as ‘I’ve Seen Footage’ and ‘Hacker’ seem more suited to an edgy, effeminate, electronic indie-pop act but for Burnett’s charmingly unrefined raps.
Words like raw and primal don’t even begin to do The Money Store justice. Like the stages of grief, initial shock and denial quickly make way for guilt. It’s a dirty, grimy, angry album that becomes a guilty pleasure – guilty because at times it just doesn’t make sense. But continuing with the stages of grief, don’t be surprised to go through periods of reflection and maybe eventually hope.
Whichever way you look at it, The Money Store seems to have been conceived and executed in such a bizarre and ludicrous context that you feel like you’re on the outside looking in. Looking in on a loony bin, that is; one that’s disturbing, creepy and addictive in equal measures.
Album opener ‘San Angeles’ will get feet moving and booties shaking, but the rest of the album is decidedly more post-rock oriented. The influences of Pink Floyd only really make a grand appearance on psychedelic tune ‘Lunar Drift’, with its spooky synths and echoing bass line.
‘The Eliminator’ takes the listener back to the eighties again, as the repetitive electronic beat that is used sounds a lot like the 8-bit sounds that were the backdrop for many early eighties video games. Imagine the aforementioned desert wasteland turning 8-bit coloured.
The eighties also dominate in the strummed intro to ‘Martin Rev’, evoking memories of Survivor’s ‘Eye of the Tiger’. You’d almost think the guys of Maserati had wished they were making music a few decades ago.
Archy Marshall – better known to some as King Krule – is one of the most exciting young artists in the world today. His debut LP, 6 Feet Beneath the Moon, found its way to the top of many album of the year lists in 2013, combining simple lo-fi guitar-based production with lyrics concerning anxiety, mental illness and isolation amongst other things. Taking a step back from the King Krule persona, so to speak, Mr. Marshall has decided to release this album under his real name. Is this divergence a sign of maturation or evolution? Or will it turn out to be a failed experiment?
The opening track, ‘Any God of Yours’, drones into life, bringing some trap-style drum beats along with it. This is by all means an ambient opener, setting the tone for the rest of the album with light vocal accents there to bring the human aspect back to the forefront, but still brings some complexity with light buzzy synth lines that would not sound out of place on an Aphex Twin record.
The following track, ‘Swell’, brings what appear to be disparate themes and styles together into what ends up being quite a disturbing beauty. The vocals have a vague shoegazey tinge, fading in and out of the nu-soul instrumentation, all underlined with a solid spine of more of that trappy drum magic. All of this is underscored with lyrics that are difficult to understand, but what you can glean is emotional and raw, with lines like “F*ck my mental health” giving a rare insight into the mind of a young tortured genius.
The album as a whole is in fact a collaborative project by Archy and his brother Jack, with the physical album containing a book of poetry and art created by the Marshall brothers and the album itself containing references to the brotherly collaboration, with track titles like ‘Arise Dear Brother’. The narrative of the album itself is, by design, rather murky and difficult to understand, but it appears to concern itself with a dysfunctional yet passionate relationship and nowhere is this clearer than the aforementioned Arise Dear Brother. The slightly out of time, almost fractured production adds an discomforting yet slightly familiar element, almost as if there is a drug-fueled element to the ostensibly ‘romantic’ relationship on display.
This LP is one of the clearest examples of how broad Marshall’s influences are and the effect they have on his style. The deep cut track, ‘Sex with Nobody’, is the clearest example of this. The pitch-shifted vocals recall a UK garage vibe, with the sharp breakbeat style drums adding a light IDM vibe and the spoken-word style vocal delivery reminiscent of punk-poets like John Cooper Clarke. This multifarious style shows a maturity well beyond Marshall’s 21 years. This continues once again on the track, ‘The Sea Liner MK1’, this time adding a funk style sample and ending with big bassy 2-Step tones as the track fades out.
The album ends with the 7-minute long, ‘Thames Water’, featuring King Krule. That’s right, it’s literally Archy Marshall featuring Archy Marshall. Considering the fact that Archy Marshall and King Krule are two quite distinct acts, it actually is a quite powerful statement. The vocal delivery is less muddled and faded, and more in keeping with Marshall’s earlier output. It would also be a disservice to the rest of the album not to touch on the theme of mental illness present throughout, and this act of disassociating the two identities is rather incredible.
Far too often when an act tries something different to what got them to the table, it can end rather badly. If it goes well, they run the risk of alienating fans of the earlier style and if it goes badly, it can often mean career suicide. It’s a testament to the tremendous ability of Marshall that not only did it go well, it has ended with what may in fact be the best album of the year. Very few people have managed to make electronic production feel this personal.