7 ½ / 10
Death Grips’ aesthetic doesn’t exist purely in the realm of audio. The aggressive hip-hop trio originally debuted last year with their music video for “Guillotine (It Goes Yah)”, in which MC Ride sits buckled into the passenger seat of a car, flailing like a psychiatric patient along to the beat of the song while white noise degrades the environment outside the car. It’s the ultimate representation of what makes them so interesting: In the junction between horror, grime, and noise, lies Death Grips creating some of the more challenging hip-hop around today.
While the centerpiece of their new album The Money Store is MC Ride’s often throaty, bellowing flow, drummer Zach Hill (more well known for his solo work and his band Hella) provides a crunchy backbone to the record with a rush of distorted, off-kilter beats. “The Fever (Aye Aye)”, the second track on the album, ends up being an unlikely single, if you could call it that. MC Ride sounds like he’s vomiting shrapnel over a junkyard remix of a Diplo track that only cuts out for a few brief seconds of breath and shouts of “Aye aye! Know what I’m sayin’?” Album closer “Hacker” features a futuristic interpretation of a classic Chicago house beat, over which Ride seems to flawlessly ramble nonchalantly from chorus to chorus.
The Money Store is the first of a pair of albums Grips plan to release this year. Impressive when you consider their acclaimed debut was released less than a year ago, and Zach Hill’s band Hella also released their fifth LP Tripper last year. Death Grips’ hyper-masculine presence isn’t something unique to hip-hop by any means, but hip-hop of the last few years has been characterized by simple, laid-back instrumentation with similarly lucid rhyming. It’s been refreshing, and opened many doors for experimentation, but sometimes you really just need a scrawny bearded dude to yell “We came to blow your system!” at you and then actually follow up on the promise.
9 / 10
There’s a certain point in the sleep cycle, the small time-frame between being awake and being asleep, where reality is stripped away in a state of “threshold consciousness”. For those with a healthy sleep routine this period is often brief, but for someone like myself it can often last hours. This state, called hypnagogia, is when the subject is most susceptible to phenomena like lucid dreaming, out-of-body experiences, and visual or auditory hallucinations.
Laurel Halo’s debut album for Hyperdub, a UK label traditionally known for releasing grimy dubstep albums by artists like Burial and Zomby, spends 40 minutes tracing a hypnogogic mesh around the brain while simultaneously side-stepping any expected direction. 2012’s electronic anti-thesis to Grimes’ Visions, Quarantine is minimal at it’s most extroverted moments; a byproduct of Halo’s past ambient work like 2011’s Antenna.
Her new home on Hyperdub isn’t a mistake either. Opener “Airsick” is driven by a thick, low bass beat punctuated by detuned piano sample. Halo’s voice on “Years” is pushed way up in the mix to the point where it begins overtaking any other instrument that attempts to butt into the song. The most ironically unconventional part about Quarantine is the unprocessed vocals; Halo experimented with reverb and effects on her voice before ultimately removing nearly every shred of vocal processing. Only on the Bjork-like “Carcass” does her voice crack and tremble in an almost robotic fashion. Discordant vocals become the counterpoint to Quarantine‘s melodic sub-bass and dub roots.
One of the strange forms of hypnagogia that I suffer from is a rare symptom called Exploding Head Syndrome. In a state of significant sleep deprivation, someone with EHS hears incredibly loud noises that seem to emanate from within the head. Last night, as I fell asleep with my headphones in playing Quarantine, the penultimate track “Nerve” jolted me out of a hypnagogic state with it’s unsettling electronic glitches. As my heart rate rose, Quarantine brought me back to sleep with the wistful closing ballad “Light + Space”. As a collection of songs, Quarantine succeeds in being ambitious and original. As an intellectual experience, it paints a remarkable picture of the world between reality and sleep.