Death Grips’ latest surprise is releasing a challenging free album

David Sackllah

For the past few months, Death Grips, the controversial Californian noise rap group, have begun to wear out their welcome. The group was already notorious for violating its record contract by leaking its second studio album for free and putting a graphic depiction of its drummer’s genitals on the album cover last fall.

The band followed those antics with last-minute cancellations of its tour dates this summer, including a highly publicized no-show at Lollapalooza where its equipment was set up at the venue before fans realized the band wasn’t coming. Death Grips canceled their Fun Fun Fun Fest set, too, all under the guise of recording new material.

A week after Fun Fun Fun Fest, out of the blue, they surprised fans with a new album available for free download from their website. Government Plates is one of their harshest and noisiest releases to date, and reminds listeners why they cared about the band in the first place. This time around, the band has opted for a chaotic structure. It feels as though each track is right on the verge of collapsing into hysteria at any given moment.

Vocalist Stefan “MC Ride” Burnett, famous for furiously spitting nearly unintelligible stream-of-consciousness raps, restrains himself on this release. Many of the tracks only have looped sections of him screaming, rather than a traditional verse-chorus structure. The beats are as frenzied as ever, especially on highlights such as the closing track or the first single “Birds,” which contains tonal shifts so abrupt they are often disorienting. Death Grips have always been masters at repetition, and they employ it here to create tracks that are hypnotic and filled with conflicting sounds. Although the sounds are chaotic, they are controlled, and it feels like every piece of noise was created with a distinct sense of purpose. Unlike any previous album, Government Plates feels less like a collection of songs and more like one long, abrasive piece. The lack of structure present means songs bleed in and out of each other, so it is hard to tell where one song ends and the next begins. While the music is jarring, the songs are always energetic and engrossing. 

Death Grips have rightfully angered a lot of fans with their antics in the past year, but those who stuck around are duly rewarded with Government Plates, possibly their most challenging and captivating release yet.