This past weekend, the force of nature known as Death Grips dropped a new album out of nowhere entitled niggas on the moon, with a promise that it's only the first album of a double-LP called the powers that b, to be released in full later this year. Anyone who's been following the Sacramento trio's tumultuous journey through the music industry knows this isn't necessarily news. Their past two releases — 2013's sample-heavy Government Plates and 2012's ugly NO LOVE DEEP WEB — were also released without any warning and put up for free on the band's website.
Though Death Grips' aggressive and highly disorienting releases have received almost unanimous acclaim so far, niggas on the moon's reception has been slightly lukewarm, and not on just a critical level. In the past, the group's stunts have been a constant source of controversy, drawing attention from fans and detractors alike, and helping to solidify the band's reputation as one of the most bizarre forces in music today. But besides niggas on the moon's purported inclusion of Björk's voice on all eight tracks, there's been little to say about the album that hasn't already been said about the group.
And yet the music itself still speaks to what a fantastically challenging band Death Grips has become. Though Exmilitary and The Money Store were futuristic slices of noise-hop unlike anything released up to that point, no one could have predicted how overtly inaccessible the group's music would become. The eight songs on niggas on the moon are fractured, restless and constantly shape-shifting, and they feature some of the most complex beats the group has manufactured yet. Though on the whole the album is probably the least consistent collection of songs in Death Grips' catalogue, it's still loaded with moments that are anything but standard in today's musical landscape.
It's interesting as well that Death Grips would drop an album mere days before the release of L.A. trio clipping.'s debut release for Sub Pop. Like Death Grips, clipping. practices a style of hip hop that draws heavily from more noisy, avant-garde source material, relying heavily on feedback and other such extremities for sample fodder. And yet played side by side, it's enormous how much more forward-thinking Death Grips' sound is than their L.A. doppelgangers. While clipping.'s fusion of musique concrète and hip hop feels cut-and-pasted together, Death Grips is one of the most prime examples of a modern power trio. Without MC Ride's blood curdling vocal delivery, Zach Hill's furious approach to drums or Flatlander's synthetic electronic style, Death Grip's sound wouldn't be nearly as devastating. But each member of the group consistently performs at the top of their game, and add up to a band that — while they may have released their weakest album yet — still has some of the most potential of any act working today.
Sam Goldner is the music director at CU-Boulder's Radio 1190. Email him at email@example.com.