Remember when Death Grips were as much a band as they were a bunch of agent provocateurs? No slight to the fashion week review death grips tour hype cycle-upending stunts they've pulled post-The Money Store—skipping highly anticipated shows (including Lollapalooza), holing up in the Chateau Marmont, sending every fan of theirs a cover-art dickpic, telling Epic to go screw, releasing an album that was supposedly a legitimate Björk collab but presumably merely sampled her voice, breaking up, ditching an opening gig for Nine Inch Nails, maybe not breaking up, and so forth. But even as the sound that made all this relevant in the first place got a fraction of the press as the crazy shit orbiting around it like noisy satellites, the music itself is more notable than the social media gimmickry. Anyone can be an aloof dildo on the Internet; not everyone could bring the trans-genre aggro bravado that those antics were meant to justify at a couple hundred kilobytes per second.
That said, it wouldn't be a Death Grips album without some weird mystery behind it, and Fashion Week has its share. For instance: someone of unknown origin and affiliation downloaded this entire album from some arcane private corner of Death Grips' website a few months back, posted it to the band's fan subreddit, and was widely dismissed as someone trying to pass off a fraudulent leak. Then Death Grips, or a representative thereof, actually posted the album on Soundcloud to prove its legitimacy, gave it a track listing that spelled out "JENNYDEATHWHEN" as a taunting acknowledgement of their supposed last album's all-question-marks release date, and then went off to do who the hell knows what else.
Leaving hungry listeners with some scraps to pick over means that what might be a stopgap release in the context of any other band is going to be pored over fiendishly by one of the more dedicated cult fanbases in music today. So Fashion Week is going to be put through the wringer, and there will be speculation about future direction. Maybe this is a bunch of scraps from the archives that hints at ideas they eventually strengthened and routes they could've taken instead, or maybe it's a few things Zach Hill scraped together to keep Death Grips in the public eye as jenny death struggles to life, or maybe it's an actual Fashion Week soundtrack some designer commissioned, or maybe it's even the instrumentals for jenny death itself, or maybe it's just some record.
Whatever it is, it's pretty bracing—not hellaciously noisy or completely impenetrable, but at least raucous enough to feel legit. That it was so readily dismissed as a hoax when it first leaked months ago gives you some idea of its quality, but what makes this record likable is still pretty elusive. You get week careening invocations of trademark ideas all butting up next to each other, riding on sparking, hissing, glitching synthesizers and Zach Hill's drums rattling like a lost-time accident at the corrugated steel warehouse. And it really knocks in a surprising way when some distinct elements jump out through the familiar framework: feverishly lighthearted circus organ on the first "Runway N", occasionally abrasive but otherwise straightforward classic Detroit techno on "Runway D", a nasty, mud-trudging lope driven by oozing nightmare Moogs on the first "Runway H" that plays like a power struggle between Tobacco and Trent Reznor. Hell, "punk" usually seems like a "for lack of a better subculture" term that gets thrown at Death Grips as a Gen-X dadrock assessment, but the second "Runway H" proves that if they wanted to, they could be this decade's Devo.
What Fashion Week's really missing, though, is some kind of central idea—if anybody ever thought this music could melt steel without MC Ride acting as threat-slinging, dinosaur-lunged instrument of corrosion, they'll probably be let down. The album needs the percussive abrasion of his voice, and digging into some of the more typical slabs of Death Grips' instrumental tendencies doesn't unearth much more than a pretty solid workout soundtrack. It makes for a good exercise in how grimy and knuckles-out they can get even when going straight-up electro, but don't try and call "Runway A" or "Runway W" transgressive hardcore art when they barely transcend the possibility of sounding like decent Run the Jewels outtakes. The titles aren't the only parts of the songs that spell out a question about what Death Grips' future is supposed to sound like, and don't expect answers to come easy.
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