Album Review : Death Grips - Steroids (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Gabber) (2017)
Infamous Sacramento-based experimental hip-hop trio Death Grips resurfaced on social media last week and announced they were working on a new album. For any normal band, this would be amazing news. It's a little more complicated for Death Grips, who not only mastered the art of subversion but made it the very point of their music. They are the wildest, most unpredictable band working today and one needs somewhat of a taste for adventure in order to appreciate their brand of music. This is why they're one of my favorite bands working today. This time, they've given us a foretaste of what they're working on (or what they want us to believe they're working on) with a 22 minutes mix titled Steroids (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Gabber) Or is that the album?
Nobody's sure, but there's a lot to process with this new release anyway, so who fucking cares? New Death Grips, rejoice!
The first key to unlock Death Grips' latest audio cipher can be found in its title: Crouching Tiger, Hidden GABBER. What the fuck does Gabber even means, right? It's an extreme subgenre of EDM that became very popular in Europe in the late eighties. Steroids (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Gabber) is not exactly a gabber album - one could say it's not even an album - but it's heavily influenced by it. It's one fluid, 22 minutes mix divided in six discernible segments. The band called it "a new track" on their Facebook page, but there really are six songs in there, or at least what seems to be. It's also an avalanche of electronic sounds this is quite overwhelming on the first couple spins. When Steroids (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Gabber) came out, host of the titlular JDO Show J. David Osborne astutely remarked that everyone pretended to enjoy new Death Grips music before actually enjoying it and he was right. It's by design.
My favorite segment of Steroids (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Gabber) is the third one, which I can best describe as arcade music for a Japanese motorcycle game if someone was playing one of the final levels of Dance, Dance Revolution right next to you. It's breathless, frantic and abnormally catchy for a release that fucks with music conventions as badly as this. In this segment, MC Ride talks about not giving a fuck and enjoying the company of nihilistic bald-headed girls, which also suit the musical arcade theme of the song. Segments three, four and six were my favorites on Steroids (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Gabber). I thought the latter of the mix was part was musically more interesting than the first because it doesn't only "Death Gripsify" gabber, but starts deconstructing it and incorporating elements from other styles into it. And creating new things out of dead things is, like you all know, the Death Grips way. There's even a mouth harp at the end of segment six. Th
There's even a mouth harp at the end of segment six. They end what is essentially an electronic music record with the folkiest, most organic instrument there is. That begs the question, though. Why a gabber record then? Why did they go in THAT direction in particular and not another? Because figuring out the creative thinking behind the music is part of the experience of enjoying Death Grips. I don't believe Hill, Andy and Ride found themselves a passion for EDM all of a sudden. I think Steroids (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Gabber) is about resuscitating a long-forgotten sound and injecting a new life into it with their electronic Frankenstein antics. I know there are still people into gabber in Europe these days, but Death Grips reappropriated a genre that essentially belong to the past to make something new with it. I could see this as being a new direction they're going to explore: creating new things out of largely forgotten ones.
Death Grips have nothing left to prove. They have beaten the music industry, became the coolest thing in the game, got signed, sabotaged their own commercial success and went on doing the music they liked without any significant drop of popularity. I'm quite frankly surprised they're still doing music in 2017 and finding new boundaries to challenge. They're obviously passionate about what they do, but I've learned not to take anything for granted with them. Death Grips will eventually move on to different thing and we need to appreciate them while they're here. Steroids (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Gabber) is a short but explosive and energizing release that dares you to love it. Will these songs be on the next album or are they merely indicative of the artistic direction they're taking? Is THIS the next album? Your guess is as good as mine, but Steroids (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Gabber) is a fun, cohesive, sometimes catchy and thoroughly challenging addition to Death Grips' discography.
And it's free to listen to on the internet. I repeat, it's free to listen to on the internet. The band just put it out there. How many popular bands you know have the balls of actually doing this?