Death Grips is an underground, experimental hip-hop trio based in Sacramento, California. They rose to popularity in 2011 with the release of their self-titled and Exmilitary EP’s. These two projects circulated quickly through internet communities and eventually landed them a deal with Epic Records where they released their first two full length LP’s, The Money Store and No Love Deep Web, before leaving the label on less than amicable terms to release the bulk of their work independently. They’re known for an aggressive style which defies genre, but does draw heavily from hardcore, punk, EDM, and math rock elements. Their last album, Year of the Snitch received mostly positive reviews from fans and I, myself, enjoyed their absurdist take on metal and hardcore music and the irreverent cynicism which flowed through every beat. Gmail and the Restraining Orders, however, is a different story.
I sat down to this EP with the intension of giving it a full review. This was already made difficult by the fact that the project was only released as one long youtube video without track names or even any separate tracks at all. However, I was still determined to give it the classic Brendon’s Beats treatment until I heard the actual music. There was a moment of echoing spoken word immediately sliced in half by a chilling, electrified growl and a chaotic explosion of drum work that sent the music into pure insanity. It became quickly apparent that I couldn’t review this record in the traditional sense, and so I began to approach it from a different angle.
I certainly don’t claim to understand some hidden, singular meaning within the record, nor do I think that such a thing even exists in any real sense, but I’ve listened to it a handful of times and I simply must share my thoughts. As I said, I don’t know that I’ve discovered a true meaning to the piece, but I would rather say that I’ve discovered a few interesting lenses through which once might view this project in order to even begin parsing out the jumbled chaos Death Grips has given us. For the purposes of this article, I’d like to take a stab at viewing this EP through the lens of one of the most subversive movements in all of art history.
Gmail and the Restraining Orders maps quite closely to the early 20th century avant-garde movement of Dadaism. Dadaists aimed to reject societal norms and capitalist pressures on art by creating works which were the antithesis of all which had been called art up until that point. By crafting pieces which eschewed all semblance of aesthetic and even logical norms, the Dadaist movement hoped to encourage their audiences to question their own reality and the systems of power which had enforced such artistic standards in the first place.
This falls exactly in line with the artistic goals of Death Grips’ entire career. From using a photo of drummer Zach Hill’s erect penis as an album cover to refusing to use any social media platforms, the trio seems to actively defy conventional wisdom in the music industry and one must wonder at some point if this decision is a statement in of itself.
Gmail and the Restraining Orders is certainly the most Dadaist piece of music in the band’s catalog to date. Every sound is caustic and unpleasant, there are no recognizable song structures, the vocals are heavily effected often made even harsher than MC Ride’s already brutal delivery, and while some beats and grooves do develop, they’re often at odds with one or more sections of the full sonic landscape at the time.
Of course, it’s impossible to hear a piece like this and not have my mind rush to perhaps the most popular example of dadaism in music, Captain Beefheart’s 1969 classic, Trout Mask Replica. In it, listeners are treated to the sound of extremely talented jazz musicians at the direction of a madman in Captain Beefheart. The result is excellent and not dissimilar to this latest effort from Death Grips, except in one key aspect.
Trout Mask Replica is, at its heart, fun. It’s a man with wild ideas being given a chance to bring them to life and its packed with youthful exuberance and moments of absurdist comedy. On the other hand, I can’t imagine someone listening to Gmail and the Restraining Orders for fun. Instead, it’s a violent, unforgiving assassination attempt on the concept of traditional music and art. It’s far more aggressive and alienating than any of the band’s work to date and I thoroughly enjoy that aspect.
It would seem that Death Grips believes, like other Dadaists before them, that our concepts of aesthetics, be they symmetry and color in visual art or rhythm and melody in music, are vices; dearly held comforts which we use to shield ourselves from any difficult realizations about the world which may be brought to us through the art we consume.
Gmail and the Restraining Orders is a violent attempt to rip the comforts of melody and rhythm away so that music, and by extension the world, may be seen more clearly.
AMAZON LINK: https://amzn.to/2UbiiiB
HEAR THE EP: https://youtu.be/j1Kxol_6Ezk