Even describing the duo—comprised of Sacramento’s own MC Ride and Zach Hill—seems to compromise their unique identity. Hill’s in-your-face blend of punk rock, noise, electronica, and hip hop transcends his “drummer” title and calling MC Ride’s contribution of defiant shouting as rap or lyrics seems grossly misleading. Yet their work’s resistance to labels (and even rationality at times) explains Death Grips’ enigmatic appeal. Though criticized (in the rare instances where the virtually universally-lauded duo has actually been criticized) as inaccessible, Death Grips exudes an impressive confidence in its difference that makes their nihilism appealing regardless. Indeed, a great part of the appeal lies in the fact that they really aren’t interested in gaining our approval at all.
In this way, the group has a lot in common with 2012’s leading anti-conformist Chief Keef in that enjoying their music requires not caring about the artistic intricacy or symbolic resonance of the lyrics, and instead just appreciating the power of emotion each track conveys. Energetic beats and creative experimentation with synthesizers make Government Plates feel powerful, even when Ride’s words don’t give us much else to work with. Even the album’s namesake track, despite the connotations of its title, has little political or social commentary to offer besides MC Ride’s distorted uttering of “I’m a corporation” in the last ten seconds. Shying from personal anecdote (instead relying on vague phrases conveying shades of meaning), the album could even be described as even less intimate than Chief Keef’s violent diatribes against the snitches and the haters in the comparatively more narrative Finally Rich.
Starting from the bottle-smash of the album’s opening track, “You Might Think He Loves You For Your Money But I Know What He Really Loves You For It’s Your Brand New Leopard Skin Pillbox Hat” (yes, it’s a Bob Dylan reference), Government Plates requires attention. Here, Ride weaves between screams and echoes with the help of Hill’s production. Lines like “Come come fuck apart in here” hint at puns while Ride describes a drug-filled mix of passionate sex and his response to the fear his persona induces. “Anne bonny” takes on stress and self-loathing through the lens of prescription drugs, contrasting with the surprisingly bright synth backing.
“Government Plates” evokes the Friendly Fires, another ironically melodic track that enigmatically repeats the phrase, “on location”. “Bootleg” is the closest thing to engagement we can expect from Death Grips, possibly telling Epic, their former label, “No I don’t need you” (though the sound is distorted enough for him to actually be referring to yey). The album closes with “Whatever I Want (Fuck Who’s Watching)” a fatalistic string of phrases of a song that’s quintessential Death Grips—angry, dismissive, and proud. Full of party-worthy electronica and sprinkled with enough irony, ambiguity, double entendre, metaphor, and cultural allusion, to make it worth a few dozen listens, Government Plates is one of 2013's best.
The album is available for free download at the band's website.