Review: Death Grips Rise From the Dead With the Explosive ‘Fashion Week’
Release Date: January 5, 2015
Label: Third Worlds
It’s hard out here for a troll. Are we to believe that maybe once people were used to Death Grips’ musical and extracurricular antics both — from dickpic album art to no-show tours — the lukewarm reception of last year’s niggas on the moon led the mysterious group to fake their own death? (Its opening cut was titled “Up My Sleeves” after all.)
Maybe the familiar disgruntled noises of Kanye West’s most intense album, and most recently, Run the Jewels’ world-beating sophomore effort, led these unwitting trailblazers to stake their turf back. Or maybe they always planned for a stopgap in the middle of a planned double album (the powers that b). This week’s surprise album Fashion Week features all near-identical song titles (“Runway J,” “Runway E,” etc.) whose last letters acrostically spell out “J E N N Y D E A T H W H E N,” referring to moon’s partner disc, jenny death, which has yet to arrive. It’s also all instrumental, which is maybe Zach Hill’s way of reminding us there’s more to his band than their stunts. Of course, it wouldn’t remind us shit if the beats weren’t good, and it turns out this is the most accessible, least turgid Death Grips album since 2012’s The Money Store, which was tidy enough to be released on a major label.
Opener “Runway J” is acid-squelch chase music for some kind of thriller set in the future, kind of like Azealia Banks’ “Heavy Metal and Reflective” if it was far more heavy metal and far less reflective. It’s followed by the slo-mo bomb-out “Runway E,” which is live band dubstep rife with failing-net-connection sounds. And so forth, with far less clanging and banging than any of Death Grips’ five(!) previous releases — “Runway D” even kind of jangles, for the first half anyway. Bridging the gap between The Downward Spiral and Skrillex, Fashion Week tempts one to think of Nine Inch Nails’ similarly vocal-less online souvenir Ghosts I-IV, except: 1) Reznor’s was a piano-laden departure more akin to his film scores and 2) he didn’t give it away for free.
Fashion Week is very different from any other Death Grips album just for being so linear, and while Stefan Burnett’s guttural, performance art-ish MCing is missed, their astoundingly dark and imaginative sonic palette remains intact. How could you even describe set highlight “Runway N?” The main riff splatters up and down the ceiling, reflecting all kinds of light on synth sounds you didn’t know could bend whichever way without breaking. In fact, the best thing about Fashion Week is that it doesn’t just renew your faith in Death Grips — who’ve already had eulogies written for them even though no one watched the body die — but in the possibilities of the synthesizer itself, just when you thought you never need to hear another one. The album ends with “Runway H,” which relies on a straight-up rock guitar riff, and not even a Juggalo-friendly one. It’s actually somewhat in the Crazy Horse universe. Maybe the “Have a Sad Cum” masterminds still have something up their sleeve after all. Bring on jenny death.