Death Grips broke up last July. Before they did, they promised that the second half of their double album, The Powers That B, would be out before the end of the year. They released a single and video from it in December, but since then it’s been pure radio silence, even after the New Year quietly rolled around. So it was a shock last week when the group suddenly uploaded these tracks to their Youtube channel, named with nothing but “Runway” and a letter, and a photo of past collaborator Sua Yoo. This obviously wasn’t Jenny Death, but something else entirely.
As it turns out, Fashion Week is a ‘soundtrack’ to a movie that doesn’t quite seem to exist yet, or at least that’s how it’s billed on the band’s site. Back in 2013 Zach Hill had mentioned that he was working on a movie, and that Death Grips would be providing the soundtrack, but it had not been mentioned again since. And that ‘soundtrack’ distinction turns out to be an important one, because this release is markedly different than the rest of their work.
Fashion Week is an all instrumental album, featuring hide nor hair of lead bellower Stefan Burnett (unless he involved himself with the production work, which we’ll probably never know). Otherwise, this affair is strictly on the shoulders of Zach Hill and Andy Morin, giving them a chance to shine outside of the confines of the normal Grips set up. And, removed from Stefan’s cryptic, intimidating lyrics and vocals, Fashion Week ends up as the brightest, most accessible sounding slab of music in the band’s catalog. Of course, there’s still songs that feature heavily distorted bass (the brutal drop of Runway H, the grind of Runway E1), creepy synth lines (Runway W), and the myriad strange sounds they’ve experimented with since Government Plates. But they’ve also replaced some of the raw experimentalism and progressive elements with straight forward verse-chorus-verse arrangements, bright leads, and a varied instrumental palate (including reintroducing guitars for the first time since Exmilitary on Runway H2, and the healthy helping of live drums on several tracks, which is a very welcome addition).
And then there’s the strains of influence all over this thing: from the Com Truise-esque synths on Runway Y, the Aphex Twin inspired vocal samples on Runway D, and the vague Fuck Buttons vibe that underpins the majority of the album, Death Grips dip their hands in many pots. This is Death Grips at their most listenable, and simultaneously experimental, allowing them to take their sounds in directions the dark, paranoid, introspective material prior to doesn’t usually permit. And god, is it a breath of fresh air – Death Grips’ music can be emotionally taxing and sonically challenging at the best of times, and as rewarding as that is, Fashion Week has finally given us the Death Grips album that you can simply listen to.
If Fashion Week has any glaring flaws, besides however you may feel about the lack of Stefan’s vocals, it might be in its repetition. Because of that verse-chorus-verse structure, many of the songs don’t evolve or change much for their duration, but that may very well be intentional given its nature as a soundtrack. Because of this, though, some of the songs simply exist, like the well-intentioned but flat Runway W, or Runway E3 and Runway N3, which are too short to even get a chance to repeat their motifs and leave an impression (the former of which is barely more than a bass line and a skeletal drum loop, the latter of which ends the album incredibly abruptly).
Fashion Week feels like a work completely removed from the rest of the band’s discography, and should be listened to and judged with a sharp mental underline under the word ‘soundtrack’. This is something entirely different, outside of the band’s usual sound and progression, and it’s a great diversion until the release of Jenny Death. Its willingness to push into more accessible, upbeat, and beat-oriented territory makes it stand out among the rest of their work, and provides a Death Grips listening experience that is much more immediate and fun than any of their work since The Money Store. And while that’s not what the band is usually about, it makes for a refreshing listen and gives even more variety to an already varied catalog, and its ‘soundtrack’ label makes it easy to file as an aside rather than a full statement.
And yes, those track titles really do spell out “J E N N Y D E A T H W H E N”.
You can download the album for free here, on their site.
KEY TRACKS: Runway J, Runway H1, Runway E1, Runway H2