The unorthodox release of Fashion Week, the completely instrumental sixth album from unorthodox hip-hop trio Death Grips, would seem to fit the bizarre narrative of this group’s career. The album of course comes replete with its own offbeat origin story: it was downloaded from some neglected corner of cyberspace, posted on a subreddit, dismissed outright as a spurious leak, then legitimised by the band’s own Soundcloud account.
Death Grips have become notorious for monkeying with fans, critics and industry insiders alike. Their spat with Epic records, myriad surprise releases, failed gig appearances chalked down to “performance art pieces”; one has to admire them for the unflinching artistic autonomy they exert, often with destructive consequences. They’ve arguably been one of the most compelling incarnations of avant-garde music-making in recent years. They make abrasive, forward-thinking industrial hip hop with little regard for mass appeal, crossing thresholds of genre and general sonic comprehension in the process. Their sound is synthetic yet primal and raw; it gives off the impression of being scatterbrained and disordered when in reality it follows a unique, precise blueprint of its own making.
It’s that very reputation that comes with the Death Grips moniker that makes this release so difficult to parse through. It’s a generally thrilling collection of electro-pastiche instrumentals, hair-raising yet cerebral. Yet it’s hard to shake the feeling they’re capitalising on the fetishisation of the Death Grips name that flourished in the wake of their ostensible “split”. Some of the tracks feel stale and flat, rough cuts that were probably meant to be expanded and embellished with trademark DG bombast. The idiosyncratic caterwauling of MC Ride, the anti-conformist, anti-shirt talisman of the group, is notably absent. Without his caustic vocals, the urgency is diminished, and FW is all the poorer because of this.