Corey Taylor is the Grammy award-winning singer/songwriter for the heavy metal band Slipknot, as well as the hard rock outfit Stone Sour and various solo collaborations. In addition to music, he is the New York Times and London Times best-selling author of Seven Deadly Sins: Settling The Argument Between Born Bad and Damaged Good and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Heaven; Or How I Made Peace with the Paranormal and Stigmatized Zealots and Cynics in the Process. He’s also written House of Gold and Bones, a comic book mini-series adapted from the short story and Stone Sour double-concept album of the same name. He keeps his stuff in many houses and hotel rooms around the world with his wife and children, much to their chagrin.
Most people don’t know this about me, but I like to listen to some pretty diverse shit when it comes to music. Being in two heavy bands, most fans automatically assume that I live in the land of Slayer and Neurosis all the time, screaming along in a dark, dank man cave somewhere deep in a secluded forest. While I love these particular bands — and that man cave is a time share — my taste in music is around the Cape and past the Horn, so to speak. I love my Frank Zappa just as much as I love my Ray LaMontagne. Sometimes it’s a Marvin Gaye day and sometimes I have a Minor Threat state of mind. So when I got the opportunity to write a piece about Death Grips, who I’d heard a lot about, I was thrilled and jumped at it like a frog on crack. (My apologies to any amphibians currently struggling with addiction.)
Government Plates is a thing of beauty. On my first listen, I had the overwhelming sense that if the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion had a threesome with Tricky and Wu-Tang, the resulting baby would be Death Grips and everyone involved would have to go on Maury Povich to figure out who the father was. The album itself is bold, layered and pays respect to the past while denying the present’s existence entirely, making the future a more exciting prospect. This is deconstruction, the free jazz era of hip-hop. It’s a challenging listen in a good way; quite frankly, I think it’s gorgeous.
Starting with one of THE longest song titles ever committed to paper, “You might think he loves you for your money but I know what he really loves you for it’s your brand new leopard skin pillbox hat” (allow me to catch my breath…) is wonderfully erratic with musical panic. From the first digital stream to the last analogue drum beat, it attacks the medium by never letting you get comfortable, all while the lyrics evince a hunger I haven’t heard in a while. With eerie harmonized vocals and pulsing rhymes, it’s a fantastic start to the excitement.
This sets the tone perfectly for the sort of experimentation and free-form to come. It lets you know that you need to forget what you think you know, but it does so with a smile. It continues with “Anne Bonny,” which is too beautiful to need structure. The lush keyboards get you thinking one way as the chant finishes with “fuck dat”… then the tempo changes. “Two Heavens” is equal parts offensive (with its sexist comments) and poetic (with the whip of the wailing “I’m on my way, yeah…”), leaving you breathless for your troubles as the time signatures switch like a schizophrenic off his meds. And these are just the first three songs.
Sonically, you never know what noisy musical collision is going to happen next. Nothing about this is typical and that’s a good thing. THIS is how you make technology your bitch — not with tedious Autotuning or odes to fat asses. You use it like a virtuoso uses a new toy, cruising easily from frenetic bursts to elongated lapses of hypnotic beat elasticity. “This is Violence Now (Dont get me wrong)” has hints of Daft Punk in their glory days, ensconced in killer electronic battles as the title’s mantra churns above the song’s head. These guys love their effects, and it shows, and they also have a love of ’80s synth samples. But the thing that makes me love this album may distract and detract enjoyment from other people: just when something’s getting good to you, they shift gears completely and swerve around a different corner entirely.
“Birds” is by far my favorite track here. The crazy hook that begins the song gets stuck in, and never gets out of, my head, even as the music suddenly transforms between something out of a horror movie and a Beat writer with the gift of Science. “One bird, two birds, three birds, four…” Shit, this could be Edgar Allen Poe on the microphone. There’s something about it that makes me feel like I’m watching an improv group hopped up on coffee and cigarettes. Forgive me for some blasphemy, but this is what King Crimson would have sounded like if they’d been more rap than rock. “Feels like a wheel” gets after you right out of the gate with its crazy, shake-your-ass beat and ear-candy drops. Here again, a sample inserts the title into the song’s fabric then twists it into a nice audio kaleidoscope. “Im Overflow,” with its shot of hot fire spittle begat “Big House,” a killer track that starts with what sounds like remnants of Lou Reed’s metal machines. I’ve never heard Moogs and Casios have an orgy before, but I got a sonic boner hearing it in “Big House.” I couldn’t help myself from rooting for this group with every song, hoping they would push things even further — an encore for this Picasso throwing abstract autographs at his listeners. But as I kept on keeping on, a pattern was forming.
From the title track to “Bootleg (Dont need your help)” to “Whatever I want (Fuck who’s watching) — another one of my favorites on this album, beginning with the initial exclamation to the final blister on the music’s lips — I really enjoyed my time listening to Death Grips and I was ready to listen to it again. But I figured out what the pattern was: after a while I knew something different was coming, even if I didn’t know what that would be. It felt like reading the ending of a book before reading the beginning. This is the only con I can possibly take away from all the pros: I wanted more, in a strange way. I don’t mean more songs, but more… something. I can’t put my finger on it, but it was there and once I saw it, there was no unseeing it. But that isn’t so much a negative as it is a perception.
So with all its ingenuity, Government Plates contains a familiarity that is indeed individual and fun but by the end becomes a bit repetitive. I love the album but I have a great feeling that this is only the start of something special — a group with this much potential has room to go anywhere they want to, and I know I’ll be even more excited when it comes time to dive into the next one.