Death Grips and Dadaism in Modern Music

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.

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

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A Perfect Circle, Lil Wayne, Death Grips, and More! 2018’s Honorable Mentions!

In no particular order, here are a few albums that got very close to making my top ten and why!

A Perfect CircleEat the Elephant

After nearly a decade and a half of radio silence from the Maynard James Keenan and Billy Howerdel side project, APC is finally back in 2018 with a daring and unique project. While the album’s unexpected town and softness maybe have turned off a few longtime fans, I felt it was a welcome change and gave an opportunity for MJK to sing over more than a few unique instrumentals. Additionally, the lyricism was as thoughtful and the vocal melodies as singable as we’ve come to expect from the group, several tracks that land squarely in the top tier of their discography. The record certainly goes down a few dead ends and that likely kept it out of my top ten, but nothing feels better than hearing one of my favorite bands finally back in the studio.

Amanda ShiresTo the Sunset

With her third studio release, Shires brought back much of what has made her previous work enjoyable. Her thoughtful lyricism his here in spades, her husband and last year’s best album choice, Jason Isbell returns to lay down some excellent guitar work and her voice is, as always, a great mix of sweet and powerful. To the Sunset brings with it, however, a strong sense of concept and cohesion that makes all the difference. Every track feels like a chapter in a larger book, though each is still tight and well paced in it’s own right. Dave Cobb’s production is as wonderful and ever and the blend of glitzy, synth pop with more classical americana songwriting is perfectly balanced and forms something that I want to hear further developed on future outings.

Loretta LynnWouldn’t It Be Great

2018 was quite a year for comebacks and icons, and Loretta Lynn was no exception. Wouldn’t It Be Great does everything right from wonderful orchestration to excellent, tight songwriting. Lynn’s voice is still as radiant as ever and the production from John Carter Cash, who’s legacy as a producer is quite impressive beyond just his lineage, is vibrant and dynamic. The only complaint levied against this album is its lack of original material, with many of the tracks having appeared on earlier Loretta Lynn records, but aside from “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” most of the updates felt interesting and necessary. Above all, it’s an album that genuinely stacks up against any project from her time on the top, an excellent listen for new and old fans alike.

Lil’ WayneTha Carter V

The wait is finally over, after legal battles, lean addictions, legal battles, and more, Tha Carter V arrived to massive fanfare and definitely didn’t disappoint. The very long gestation period shows as this album dances through the popular influences of last decade, from bling to trap to emo rap. A feature list that included Kendrick Lamar, XXXTentacion, and Travis Scott while mercifully lacking a Drake feature is a veritable who’s who of modern rap. While the album lacks the prescience and modernity of earlier Carter entries, it makes that up in its tour through the last several years of rap music. Best of all, Wayne’s flow is as hard hitting as it’s ever been.

The 1975A Brief Inquiry Into Online Relationships

This album surprised me more than any other in 2018 as The 1975’s work had been rather unimpressive up to this point.However, it’s clear from the first few tracks the Brief Inquiry has fixed nearly every issue that had plagued the previous two outings. The instrumentation is glitzy, well produced, and even abrasively bright at times. Matty Healy’s lyricism is heavily matured and is, in fact, the overwhelming highlight of the record. The soup of cynicism, sarcasm, apathy, and drug references that he cooks up on this project is truly fantastic and it elevates an already good album to a great one, and by far the band’s best work to date. 

Death GripsThe Year of the Snitch

One of the strangest and most divisive bands of all time, Death Grips keep up their relatively prolific pace with maybe their most despondent and chaotic release yet. The Year of the Snitch is easily their least hip-hop influenced work yet, pulling instead from elements of noise and industrial rock, EDM, avant guarde, and hardcore punk. It’s really quite the experience, and it’ll need to be heard a few times before it can be processed Attempting to track the influences and ideas through out is a challenge for even the most avid music fan, especially as the complex mis of elements that exists is warped in the end stage by the group’s powerful absurdist tendencies. Nevertheless,  The Year of the Snitch is a must listen for fans of underground and extreme music.