Album Review : Death Grips - Government Plates (2013)
I'm nearing the end of my Death Grips retrospective, I can help by admire the ferocious drive and integrity of these guys. For over six years now, they've dedicated themselves to writing groundbreaking music, rejected their audience's expectations, challenged their own ideas and remained the talk of the town on the internet anyway. So, Death Grips never went out of style. The closest they've ever been to becoming obsolete is their third studio album Government Plates, which is remembered as the sorry, half-baked follow up to the equally brilliant The Money Store and No Love Deep Web, the two chapters of their mysterious and ill-fated alliance with Epic Records. Was Government Plates that bad or was it another cipher that everybody whiffed on?
Well, it's neither of these things. Shocker, huh?
First thing you should know about Government Plates is that the first half is pretty great. It holds up to their standards of creativity and extreme imagery for the most part. The opener You Might Think He Loves You For Your Money But I Know What He Really Loves You For Is Your Brand New Leonard Skin Pillbox Hat is one of the best, most ferocious songs Death Grips ever recorded. The beat has this jagged, buzzing bass and breaking glass samples, MC Ride is rapping about violent and depraved sexual encounters. Countless songs were recorded about going insane, but this one actually feels like it.
The follow up Anne Bonny is a high-strung, schizoid piece that constantly alternates between a chirping spaceship sample and a more classic drum track, but Zach Hill where Ride raps about drugs and the internet. It has an interesting anthemic quality to it. It's the kind of song you signalong on a dance floor when you're all drunk and high: I'm on that V, On that Yellow Pill Shit/Fuck the deal is/Fuck kill steal shit/Fuck real. Two Heavens is another high note on Government Plates. Zach Hill's trademark, syncopated drum track is really shining on there. It has this echoing quality to it that contrast with the high pitched samples. The song is about the freedom of not believing in the afterlife and therefore not being governed by the belief of good and evil, which I thought was super interesting too. Ride says "Two Heavens is all I know." Since he has mastered fear of the divine, he's rewarded whatever he does.
And that's about it, really. The material on Government Plates is of very little interest outside of these three songs. I've quite enjoyed Birds too. It's one of their first songs that prominently featured guitars (played by Robert Pattison, by the way) and I liked how it alternates between robotic, dehumanized choruses and these spacey, John Frusciante-like fugues. There's a great bipolar energy to it. The rest of Government Plates isn't bad, per se. It just feels like a bunch of half-assed ideas put together. This is Violence Now is a hardcore techno banger that doesn't really have new ideas to offer. Ride repeats the same line over and over again on the song. Same for Feels like a Wheel, which is foreshadowing the material you'll find on Steroids in 2017, except in a more rudimentary and wordless form. Ride's manic energy is cruelly missing on some of these songs.
So, what is Government Plates exactly? Why did a band that constantly released game-changing material over their career bothered throwing such a half-finished project out there?Your guess is as good as mine, but guessing and interpreting is part of what makes Death Grips fun, so hear me out. I think it was originally meant for Epic Records. That is was slapped together with new songs and leftover material as some sort of contractual engagement. Plenty of artists do it. Others release a Greatest Hits records in order to fast track through a record deal, but I'm not sure Epic would've let them do that after two and a half records. Death Grips are often portrayed as petulant and provocative for their behavior in the Epic skirmish, but conventional record deals are pretty fucking shitty and deliberately putting together an underwhelming album to get out of one is far more reasonable than...I don't know, leaking confidential documents and putting a penis on you album cover. Makes sense, RIGHT?
I think Death Grips were sitting on Government Plates for a while and that it would've been out way before if it wasn't for legal red tape surrounding their material leaking stunt. That they told themselves "fuck it" and released it anyway, so that they could start working on The Powers that B, which came only a couple months after (well, the first half anyway). So, Government Plates is an afterthought in Death Grips and I sincerely believe it's an afterthought for the band, despite having a handful of immortal songs on it. The worse that can happen to a band is not being criticized or reviled, but to be ignored and dismissed and it's kind of what happened to Government Plates. I don't think anybody is listened to this album cover to cover anymore. It's blissfully skipped over by fans and critics alike. It's not without its merits, but consider it a lesson well-learned? This is a band that can't afford lowering expectations for itself.