Like a feverish rash refusing to subside, Sacramento-based experimental hip-hop duo Death Grips just won’t die. Admittedly, the thought of a world without Death Grips is a hard pill to swallow, because like them or not, the band has firmly established itself as a considerable cult force in the underground music world. The insanity of MC Ride’s manic, unintelligible gibberish has become an unmistakable trademark just as much as Zach Hill’s chaotic, full-frontal assault style of production. In other words, Death Grips is a band without peer. The band’s farewell note, delivered via napkin scribbles advising their loyal fans to “stay legend” came at the expense of pretty much everyone; fans, artists and concert venues across the United States felt the blow as every concert date scheduled for the remainder of the year was promptly cancelled. Suffice it to say, then, that not everyone stands likely to celebrate a Death Grips resurrection, especially given the band’s talent for neglecting to appear onstage and using erect penises for album covers.
Even so, “Fashion Week” just might be the Death Grips album for listeners who hate Death Grips. Right from the start, it’s immediately apparent that this is a critical departure from the group’s previous studio recordings, as evidenced by the complete absence of MC Ride’s incessant verbal sewage. Divorced from the lunacy of its frontman’s ramblings, Death Grips’ first full-instrumental album allows for Zach Hill and the production team to truly pour themselves into the music of Death Grips. Track after track, “Fashion Week” finds the group at an instrumental creative peak. Not only are a number of these compositions surprisingly subdued for a group so thoroughly defined by sonic terrorism, but many of these tracks are remarkably melodic as well – something nearly unthinkable given the band’s previous history. “Runway J,” the album’s opening cut, sports a jagged but eerily memorable stomp as it confidently weaves and rumbles through its four-minute runtime. It’s a track that, on paper sure, seems like a traditional Death Grips cut but whose immediacy and relative accessibility mark a new frontier for the band.
Despite these departures, “Fashion Week” still manages to sport many of the band’s habitualized quirks. “Runway H,” for instance, sports the band’s traditional abrasive electric spasms panning left to right as a plodding, methodical beat drives the cacophony forward. Under ordinary circumstances, the group’s failure to commit to its newfound sanity might seem like a counterpoint against such a solid, forward-thinking release, but the familiarity of these throwbacks actually works in Death Grips’ favor, anchoring “Fashion Week” in something tangible for veteran listeners and breaking any potential monotony from a wholly consistent musical experience.
Regardless of the music though, “Fashion Week,” is nothing if not a surprise. It’s an album with one foot in the pool from a band who supposedly had both in the grave. By all accounts, this record shouldn’t even exist, but, by some miracle (or by some vicious curse from the powers that b) threatens to tear down the walls. Ultimately, whatever listeners think of Death Grips’ “Fashion Week” will likely depend on existing biases for or against the band’s particular flavor of aural anarchy. For whatever its worth, though, the duo seem to be branching out from their traditional “leave-no-ear-unbled” approach. The majority of listeners aren’t likely to find much value here, but that’s okay, because at the end of the day Death Grips won’t care. They never do.