Song Of The Week: Death Grips—“Hot Head”

By Adam Piotrowicz

Love them or loathe them, Death Grips have been one of the most talked-about artists of the 2010s, and for good reason. Beginning with 2011’s Exmilitary, the trio – producer Andy ‘Flatlander’ Morin, drum wiz Zach Hill and vocalist Stefan ‘MC Ride’ Burnett –  have dissected and corroded their way through genre and form, hitting listeners from various angles with consistent and unexpected evolutions in style and approach. Each new record has seen the band balance precision and progression, both limiting their reference to other music (and reality altogether) and simultaneously transforming into something increasingly deranged and visceral. There is nothing quite like experiencing a Death Grips album: they are at once violent, disturbing, unfathomable, and familiar in a manner unlike pretty much everything else out there. They operate by their own rules (as LA Reid and Epic Records discovered in what might be the most ferocious display of internet age punkshit to date), both standing apart from and relentlessly exploiting major-label hype, selfie sticks, digital media, and just about everything else. They are a telling and accurate picture of the hypernet age; of the fast-moving and paranoid reality of living in a world dominated by YouTube and social media. That alone should make them worthy of a listen.

“Death Grips 2.0”, the closing track off of last year’s Jenny Death, hinted at a faster-than-life direction for the group’s sound, and “Hot Head” – their latest single – grabs that idea and, using a mix of live drumming and electric-drums-as-triggers, takes it to its logical, almost fractal-like, extreme. The track feels like an organic automaton; one that delivers a pummeling more flesh than steel in execution. In other words, it slaps.

It is also some of the craziest shit that Hill has done on drums in recent memory: a chipmunk-speed barrage of frenetic rolls, blast-beats and polyrhythms that almost feels like a throwback to his Hella days (yet still fresh as ever). The most satisfying Death Grips moments are, for me, the percussive ones, and “Hot Head” is absolutely guaranteed to turn my steering wheel into an inferno the next time I am bored in traffic. We know that Death Grips are metalheads (MC Ride has, for example, been seen sporting a t-shirt of Edmonton grind/black metal band Revenge, Hill is on record as saying Dying Fetus is a good band to take a shit to, and the two of them first had the idea of starting a musical project after lending each other black metal tapes), and “Hot Head” gleefully and shamelessly pins up that metal influence (while simultaneously corroding its form beyond recognition). The chopped samples recall the sound of tremolo guitars, and Hill’s quasi-grind-ish drumming adds to the track’s cyborg-metal feel, though the track itself is far more warped and aggressive than anything a metal band would make. In an age of black metal manifestos, it is fresh to see Death Grips channeling metal’s raw and violent spirit in an uncontrived manner and without getting lost in the bookends (read: Liturgy’s The Ark Work kind of sucked and “Hot Head”  feels like what Hunter-Hendrix wanted but was unwilling to dirty his hands to achieve). Indeed, the resulting manic assault of slice-n-diced samples and jitterbug percussion hits ends up feeling a bit like the ghost of black metal returning from beyond the pale to possess your smartphone and beat your face in with it. Call it badass or bullshit, “Hot Head” definitely brings the heat. I say: whatever it is, bring it until my face melts off.


Photo by Samantha Marble [via Pitchfork]


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