I try to always know where I stand with a band when I sit down to write here. It’s not very hard; I try to write about music I truly enjoy, mostly because I prefer to spend my free time talking about the things I want others to listen to, rather than what not to listen to. To date, I’ve written two negative reviews (Lady Gaga’s Born This Way and mewithoutYou’s It’s All Crazy! It’s All False! It’s All a Dream! It’s Alright., in case you were wondering). More to the point, by the time I sit down to talk about music, my idea of what makes an album good is already pretty well formed.
I knew what kind of music Death Grips were going in, but “Industrial Rap” (or “Noise Rap”) is not exactly something one thinks makes much sense. A lot of rap is incredibly loud (hell, Public Enemy redefined loud), but the very first thing you notice about Death Grips’ debut record is that it is incredibly loud. Loud in a way that really doesn’t get touched by anything that isn’t made by Norwegians with upside down crosses tattooed on their foreheads. It’s loud in a way that, for the only time in my entire life, left me with an honest-to-god headache by the end of the record. I feel like this cannot be overstated. The Money Store also sounds as loud as it sounds massive; it feels, at all times, like every possible square inch of space is full of the sound of this band.
The Money Store is also tremendously exciting. Listening through the record, you can’t help but feel swallowed up by the record, unable to contain your urge to bob your head along with the never-ceasing flow of the record. Every song on the record flows together in a way that isn’t quite seamless, but they all embody the same state of mind, the same atmosphere. It’s hard to not want to immerse yourself in the thick soup that the record often feels like.
But, that gift is a lot of the curse of Death Grips, and The Money Store. Everything does blend together, meaning that some threads are hard to grab onto, to find any semblance of substance. There are standout tracks, sure; “Hacker,” the album’s closing track, is far and away the most engaging on the record, and “Punk Weight” thuds along in a way that almost feels beautiful, for all its grime. But as a delivery system, it essentially means that frontman Stefan Burnett’s words, screamed almost constantly, become a Rorschach test for what the listener wants from the music; If you asked me what Burnett was rap-screaming, I could only give you repeated phrases, or things that I think he’s rap-screaming. Ideas flood together in a thick stew of impenetrable grime, leaving you wanting desperately to break in, even if you don’t know if you really want to break in. If this was the band’s intent, then they succeeded with more than enough gusto to go around. But, you have to wonder, if that is the reason for their sound: who, in the blog era, starts a band with the intent to alienate the listener?
This, of course, brings up a deeper question: What purpose does this record serve? Their sound is nothing new, to be sure, but until you actually hear what the band has come up with, you really have no idea what you’re in store for. More than the mission of the band, it’s hard to wonder: who is this music made for? If you really wanted to dig deep, you could say that an all-around shit-show like this is a reflection of the kinds of things that we, as a group, are looking for: two things, at somewhat different ends of the spectrum, thrown together as if taken whole and put into the Large Hadron Collider. This record is sloppy, gigantic, and engaging against all odds, but it still makes you wonder: why?
As an exercise in high art, The Money Store is an exercise in futility, a triumph of the heart, and possibly a portrait of what we crave as a society. As an attempt to alienate the audience, this, too, is a soaring success. If pressed, I would say that The Money Store is an absolutely fantastic album, and you should definitely give it a listen. But first, you must ask yourself: what is it I really want from music?