Earbuddy’s writers discuss the new Bjork-infused album from Death Grips: Niggas on the Moon.Third Worlds / Harvest, 2014
Purchase: Free Download
7.5 / 10
Welcome to another Earbuddy Roundtable Review. To explain, Earbuddy assembles three or more writers to discuss a new album with each writer giving his/her thoughts on the release and their own personal score. Then an average score is determined for the album overall. For our latest Roundtable, Earbuddy writers John Downey, Ryan Rogers, and Alex Daniel will be reviewing Death Grips’ new album Niggas on the Moon.
Death Grips’ reputation precedes them. It’s likely that people hear about the band’s actions than come across any of their music. After releasing the completely excellent and abrasive The Money Store in 2012, the experimental noise-hop group has put out a string of albums unannounced and for free. Niggas on the Moon is Death Grips’ latest surprise release, and it is only the first half of a planned double LP collectively known as Powers That B. Previous Death Grips’ records have divided our writing staff, so we thought Niggas on the Moon may need more than one opinion.
Death Grips is admittedly one of my favorite bands of the 2010’s, so I’m sorry if I come off as a DG apologist. Death Grips has pretty much dominated experimental hip-hop with genre-defying albums such as Exmilitary, The Money Store and Government Plates (all of these are year-end list-worthy). Death Grips at this point has pulled off almost every “fuck you” move imaginable to the industry and its fans, so it’s no surprise that Niggas On The Moon (NOTM) was released on thirdworlds.net (Death Grips’ label site) as the first installment of a two-disc album without any prior press release nor album trailer. It might seem odd on the criticism side of the music industry to review one disc of a two disc album, but it’s 2014 and Death Grips, so go figure.
The eight tracks on NOTM all work within a single frame: producer Andy Morin a.k.a. Flatlander manipulates Björk’s voice (apparently she is “thrilled” to be their “found object”, so thankfully it didn’t stir any unneeded tension between the two acts) and occasionally freaks out with a fast-paced sampling rampage, MC Ride constantly sings, raps or screams surreal lyrics and Zach Hill goes totally mental on the drums. If it’s hard to buy into the singular sound they present on NOTM, then some problems could arise with enjoying the album (or at least half of The Powers That B so far).
NOTM opens up with “Up My Sleeves”, which features a Siri-esque narrator activating the album into hyperdrive. “Up My Sleeves” pretty much mirrors the same energy and tone of the opening track of Government Plates, except slightly less angry and more manic depressive. MC Ride plays a rather uncharacteristically glamorous character in “Black Quarterback” and the track sounds like they are backtracking their sound to their fast-paced sample-heavy beginnings. After “Black Quarterback”, the songs kind of run into each other making it difficult to keep track of what song is playing, which for some makes NOTM a cinch to listen to all the way through.
MC Ride still maintains his morose quotability, especially on “Say Hey Kid” with “(say hey kid / say hey kid / say hey kid / come play dead). In proper Death Grips tradition, NOTM ends with an off-kilter club banger titled “Big Dipper” and it features an entertaining self-description via MC Ride: “(I’m a bullshitter / I’m a shitty stripper / I’m a silhouette lifter / I’m a struck duck off-kilter / I’m a bit bewildered / I’m a fucking downer / I’m a binge thinner / I’m a Big Dipper)” (not entirely sure if Ride says “struck duck”, it’s just what Rap Genius said it was).
In these short four years, Death Grips has a lot of styles and material to pick and choose from, so it’s no wonder that NOTM sounds like all of the past albums thrown into a compactor stylistically. Some might argue NOTM might be too oversimplified and just a mish-mash of their previous sounds, but the progressive clip, the production and MC Ride’s still fresh take on the world makes me anxious for the upcoming second disc whenever it decides to peek its demented head.
Ryan’s Score: 8.3
With Death Grips, there’s a catch. There’s always a catch. So when they announced that their new record featured Björk on every track, I should have been a bit more skeptical. Instead of having the Icelandic icon come into the studio and set down 8 tracks’ worth of vocals, it appears that Death Grips have just mixed, cut, spliced, and gutted her performances. This ends up being an interesting effect because, even if Björk isn’t really on this record, she is the spine that holds it all together. My problem with Government Plates was that it lacked almost any kind of coherence. With Bjork appearing, albeit sampled, on every track, Niggas on the Moon has a sense of flow between each of the tracks. Death Grips never gets a chance to making a jarring transition because they’re using the same components across the album. This comes with the downside that the last half of the record more or less congeals into one sound, and it isn’t until the last track (“Big Dipper”) that you’ll really wake up from the mediocre stretch.
A friend asked me the following question about James Patterson: “all of his books are just of average quality, but he’s able to release like 2 or 3 books a year. How good do you think one of his books would be if he took 3 or 4 years to write one?”
On the face of it, this seems like a dumb question. Patterson’s best quality is that he can sling out novels like an automaton, and if this expediency is removed from the equation, what would you even have left? But Death Grips offers another view – a view that this proposition about Patterson could indeed be true. Death Grips’ strongest efforts to date are their first two LP’s, Exmilitary and The Money Store, and after that, the group has seemed more interested in quantity over quality. On one hand, I’m glad that this chaotic, seemingly self-destructive band is able to turn out so much material, but on the other hand, they seem less concerned with releasing another great record in favor of these smaller-scale scattershot albums. Here’s to hoping that we won’t see another Death Grips record until 2016 or later.
Alex’s Score: 7.0
My experience with Niggas On The Moon completely contrasts with my past Death Grips’ experiences. This release is more listenable. Does that mean: (a) I’m finally getting used to Death Grips’ music after hearing their past four releases, (b) Death Grips are getting better, or (c) Death Grips are losing their edge? Certainly they haven’t lost their sense of humor. After teasing Icelandic singer Björk on all eight tracks, her presence is reduced to chopped up samples of bigger pieces that we’ll never hear, unless they’re used for the second half for Powers That B. However, there could be a new special guest like Panda Bear that’s ripped and shredded beyond recognition. Personally I’m not complaining too much because Björk isn’t really my cup of tea, but I must say that her sampled snippets make for interesting effects behind Niggas On The Moon‘s tracks.
So back to my original question concerning Niggas On The Moon‘s accessibility. I don’t believe my “enjoyment” of this release is because I’m getting used to Death Grips’ music, as Niggas On The Moon switches things up by being not as abrasive as the previous releases dating back to The Money Store. I’m not really sure that it’s ‘b’ either, as Death Grips really haven’t changed — MC Ride still spits the same abstract lyrics that he always has and the music is still sinister and creepy in equal doses. So it has to be ‘c’, right? Death Grips are losing their edge; they even signed to a new record label recently (Harvest Records), which doesn’t seem like normal behavior for the band that purposely got itself dropped from old label Epic Records. I still don’t believe that ‘c’ is the right answer either.
Maybe the answer is the hidden ‘d’ or all of the above. I wouldn’t say ‘losing their edge’ necessarily means a neutered Death Grips, but this is a group that needed to calm the fuck down. There’s only so many stunts that can be pulled before it begins to border on parody — let’s focus on the music. It’s easier to swallow Death Grips’ music now that they’re not the only hip hop/electronic/experimental act around. Fellow writer John Downey pointed out that Niggas On The Moon could be a reactionary release to clipping’s CLPPNG that arrived the same week. So maybe it’s this hip hop sub-genre that’s softening me up to Death Grips’ music. As to whether Death Grips are getting better, I can’t really judge their past releases, as I didn’t fully understand them; however, I’m enjoying this release more with tracks that fit better as actual songs like “Billy Not Really”, “Black Quarterback”, “Fuck Me Out”, “Voila”, and “Big Dipper”. Of course, what’s to say that the second half of Powers That B completely disputes Niggas On The Moon. It could happen, but on its own, this half is pretty good.
Nick’s Score: 7.2