Death Grips challenge, excite with new album

If there is one word that can capture the Sacramento-based experimental rap outfit Death Grips’ third and latest album, “Government Plates,” it would be “brutal.” This word is not indicative of the quality of the record. Instead, it encapsulates the aural assault “Government Plates” delivers to listeners. Death Grips has always been unconcerned with musical conventions and, consequently, its albums have been quite removed from the more mainstream style of other rap groups — if one can even call Death Grips a rap group.

Death Grips is most famous for its 2012 record, “No Love Deep Web.” The album was controversial not only for its experimental style, but also for its album art, which featured a photograph of an erect penis with the album’s name written on the shaft. This time, the album art is much more tame, depicting only a license plate with the word “DEATH” written on it — an image that is fitting for the album’s title. With “Government Plates,” Death Grips stays true to form, keeping up with their pre-established brand of eclectic music.

On “Government Plates,” Death Grips manages to channel the more “punk-rock” aspects of rap. Songs tend to be shorter, have a constant in-your-face pounding rhythm and sometimes even include guitar rifts (albeit heavily altered ones) — all of which are elements of traditional punk-rock music. This style is evident in the absurdly titled “You Might Think He Loves You For Your Money But I Know What He Really Loves You For It’s Your Brand New Leopard Skin Pillbox Hat.”

The tracks that are closest to singles for this album — “Birds” and “Two Heavens” — seem to fall into a more traditional hip-hop format. Yet even on these songs, Death Grips’ unique style pervades, overwhelming any slight vestige of pop. “Two Heavens” fluctuates between a screamed-out chorus and slow-and-low interludes, while “Birds” — possibly the most mellow number — sounds almost monotone over a soothing guitar riff that is intermittently cut by a jarring burst of psychedelic breakbeat electronica.

“Government Plates” also borrows heavily from what has been referred to as IDM, or Intelligent Dance Music. The IDM-influence is audible in the overall composition of several of the tracks, including the noteworthy closer, “Whatever I Want (F**k Who’s Watching).” Here, the line “F*ck who’s watching” is repeated almost hypnotically throughout the course of the song over a heavy dose of computer-created beats. There also seems to be a trace of Jamaican Dancehall in the way frontman Stefan “MC Ride” Burnett cuts his verses into the tracks, often layering them to create a musical progression that is somewhat akin to the “Ragga” sub-genre of Dancehall.

Despite the diverse set of genres on display in “Government Plates,” it would be a mistake to call this album a mere summation of its parts. “Government Plates” is a unique project that showcases a group of artists who have chosen to produce music based on their own preferences, instead of focusing on the expectations that come with genre. That being said, “Government Plates” does harken back to Death Grips’ earlier work, expanding upon the band’s two previous full-length releases, as well as an earlier mixtape — except this time the result is more polished and compelling.

Overall, this record sounds even more “brutal” than Death Grips’ former releases, as many of the tracks incorporate harsher musical landscapes. However, the general feel of the album is quite similar to their prior sound. Though the intense nature of Death Grips music may not appeal to many people, they’re worth a listen, and “Government Plates” is definitely a good place to start.