So what’s the final impact of Death Grips, a trio whose sound is as cryptic as its ambition? They’ve always been at war against some construct, whether it’s through the doors they busted with The Money Store in 2012 or serving a middle finger-via-dick pic with No Love Deep Web. Following the acid trip of Government Plates, Death Grips released Fashion Week and the Björk-sampling Niggas on the Moon — and then supposedly disbanded. There’s eccentricity in nearly every facet of their existence. But does the chaos serve an end, or is chaos the purpose?
Jenny Death, the second disc of the double album The Powers That B (with Niggas on the Moon serving as the first), is the antithesis to the idea that Death Grips is a subversive act. Those who make that argument may be right; we could be recapping some explanatory, profound MC Ride NYU lecture 10 years down the road. But think of “The Fever (Aye Aye)”, “I’ve Seen Footage”, “Whatever I Want (Fuck Who’s Watching)”. Death Grips seem designed to challenge intellectually, yet their best material hits on a visceral level. As possibly their final project — you never know, that disbandment could be another feint — Jenny Death is a punctuation mark that implies appealing to that aggressive id was the point all along.
It makes sense that Death Grips would announce a tour following this album. Sonic violence underlines a majority of their work, but Jenny Death sounds specifically aimed to decimate venues in its straightforward expression of that aggression. It lunges at you instead of inviting you to find the thrills in its detritus. It’s their most punk album, both musically and in function. There’s a spectrum within its darkness: MC Ride’s anarchy-by-masochism howls on “I Break Mirrors with My Face in the United States” make for an apoplectic opening salvo, while “Inanimate Sensation” — a tad overenthusiastic in the effect of the revving engine climax of its “hook” — keeps up the ante. Both tracks clearly run on adrenaline, but what adds another layer of humanity is how they opt to steer away from cold, mechanized structures. Little things like the percussion bedlam that grounds “I Break Mirrors…” and the high-pitched voice that accompanies “Inanimate Sensation’s” onomatopoeic scratches add to the mania.
It’s worth noting that some of Death Grips’ best debris-curdling numbers appear here. “Why a Bitch Gotta Lie” is what happens when you mix Aerosmith’s “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” and Creed’s “My Sacrifice” in an asylum. Its maelstrom of dive-bomb fuzz and panicked Kraftwerk refrains maximizes Death Grips’ experimental tendencies to dizzying impact. Even MC Ride’s “WHY A BITCH GOTTA LIE?” sounds labored within this soundscape. In “On GP”, what starts as percussive power strumming turns into a journey to psychosis. Drums range from syncopated to anthemic while the guitar teases “stadium anthem” before two-stepping back toward droning nihilism. This isn’t just about the pleasure of destruction; MC Ride’s normally unintelligible barking is replaced by a poignant rumination on suicide: “I’d be a liar if I sat here claiming I’d exit in a minute/ But I can’t say I wouldn’t, I have my limits.”
Jenny Death isn’t as potent as it could have been, even in its undemanding 49-minute runtime (45 minutes if you decide not to include the album-closing “Death Grips 2.0”, which works as an addendum rather than an essential). Death Grips tracks normally range between compact power jams and amorphous epics (see “Whatever I Want (Fuck Who’s Watching)”). A lot of Jenny Death is stuck in between the two, opting for lengthened jams with repetitious thrills rather than reaching for the unpredictable — especially in the latter half (to be super-specific, “Centuries of Damn”). But it’s not big enough of an issue to drag Jenny Death down. Death Grips’ final (?) album isn’t just a proper sendoff for their fan base; it’s also for people who like what the band represents (or what they think it represents) but can’t get into the material. Alas, here’s something tangible.
Essential Tracks: “Why a Bitch Gotta Lie”, “On GP”, and “Beyond Alive”