The Money Store
Death Grips' impact on hip-hop history is unclear. They will either be a force for change in the music or the Sacramento outfit will heavily influence whoever does revolutionize the genre. In 2011 Death Grips kicked the door in with their ExMilitary mix tape, an angry burst of creative energy not seen since Public Enemy’s It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back. Inexplicably the band signed to Epic Records via LA Reid and in 2012 plan to drop two albums on an unsuspecting public.
The first is The Money Store and while LA Reid may have seen some kind of moneymaker in Death Grips, he didn’t involve himself in the recording process. The Money Store is a garage record, a punk rock album wearing a hip-hop facemask and waving a political shotgun. These guys are angry, monolithically angry, and they have the talent to back it up. The opening track “Get Got” is a storm of varied sounds and beats that bounce off each other. Each measure feels like it is collapsing on itself while MC Ride rhymes with the urgency of a cocaine addict that just injected speed into his brain. It sets the stage for the entire album. This isn’t a straight record from any genre. Instead The Money Store is an onslaught of technology and rage.
Musically Death Grips are like the Bombsquad if they hadn’t been able to duck paying for samples. Old Public Enemy records were just beats underneath a landscape of rapid-fire samples. Death Grips is the same barrage of sounds only using blips, chirps, alarms, and other random noises to create their landscape. “Lost Boys” is a techno-terror manifesto coming across like a group of rebels trying to get their message out through pirate radio. “Hustle Bones” uses static and feedback mixed with a sample that comes straight off a bridge and tunnel dance record. “Punk Weight” uses a Bollywood sample over high-pitched swatches of noise. Song after song Death Grips music masterminds Zach Hill and Andy Morin bring as many random sounds together as they need to make their point.
Over the top of this noise orgy is Stefan Burnett (aka MC Ride) who is to “rapper” what Charles Manson is to “thinking outside the box”. Burnett’s flow takes parts of Lightnin’ Rod, The Last Poets, slam poetry and filters them through a healthy combination of Jim Jones and John Brown. It’s clear Burnett is enraged, though we’re never really sure why. Some of his lyrics are wonderful and some seem like simple word play. Burnett was much more effective lyrically on ExMilitary, but The Money Store has some real gems on it. The more off the wall the word connections are, the stronger Burnett’s delivery. That sheer force of will carries him through his lower lyrical points and adds punch to his higher ones.
Death Grips walk an interesting line in the same way Tool does. The monosyllabic caveman who beats up punk rock kids outside the Denny’s parking lot will be just as into them as the snarky hipster music nerd. Death Grips are that rare combination of intelligent music and alpha male power. If ExMilitary was the announcement that Death Grips arrived, The Money Store lets us know they’re sticking around until they’ve created as much havoc as they need to.
Simply put, I’ve been waiting a long time for an album like this.
Torche, much like Death Grips, defy convention almost routinely. Once upon a time pop music wasn’t a bad word. Before subgenre and classification became all the rage, the term “pop music” held bands like The Cure, The Smiths, Talking Heads, U2 and so on. Being able to write an infectiously catchy song that still rocked wasn’t a head scratcher and bands weren’t afraid to do it. Torche have decided to stab that fear in the eyeball with Harmonicraft and it starts from the first note of song one.
“Letting Go” is an arena rock anthem. Imagine those soaring U2 riffs, before The Edge got lazy, combined with anthemic Cheap Trick pop. “Kicking” is Foo Fighters with balls. Big, huge rock riffs, crashing cymbals with that dash of punk sitting just below the surface. “Walk Off” is noisier creation akin to what Torche have shown us before, as is the slow chug of “Reverse Inverse”. Though Torche lean on their own formula here, they still do it through this glowing pop haze.
Harmonicraft is an album that exists on feeling. “Snakes Are Charmed” has a riff so exhilarating it feels like a warm summer day when school is out and the girl you really like agrees to meet you. “Kiss Me Dudely” is straight off an eighties soundtrack. Short, big and driving. If you grew up in that era or have seen any eighties teen film, you’ll hear this song and immediately think of the montage where the kids band together to build something for a contest, train for a fight or take on the bullies.
It’s not all sunshine and pop fun on Harmonicraft. “Looking On” is a thick and angry stunner while “Solitary Travels” is the most melancholy song on Harmonicraft. I’m also a big fan of the guitar work on the title track instrumental. There are three or more guitar lines in this song and they weave together perfectly. Tossed into that mix are tiny sounds and off rhythm drums that keep the controlled chaos idea of the song. It feels at any moment the music will jump the rails and collapse. That kind of tension is what makes a great instrumental jam.
Production is essential to an album like Harmonicraft and once again Converge player Kurt Ballou delivers. Much the same way he have High On Fire clarity without sacrificing their heaviness on De Vermis Mysteriis, Ballou polishes Torche’s sound without sacrificing the rock fury or the noise aspects. Ballou understands what it is to listen to a band, figure out what they want and then pull it out of them. He is a major talent that will be part of bigger and bigger records as his career continues.
Okay bands, now you see that pop music can rock your nuts into oblivion. The groundwork is done, the blueprint has been laid out and Torche have opened the door for you to not be afraid. In the immortal words of Alec Baldwin from Glen Gary Glenn Ross:
“Go and do likewise gents”.