Album Picks: Death Grips, Light Asylum, Santigold, Lower Dens

Posted by Billy Gil, May 2, 2012 03:09pm | Post a Comment
death gripsLots of great new stuff came out on Tuesday, and I’ll get to that, but I need to talk about Death Grips a bit first. The Money Store is surely one of the best things anyone has recorded yet this year, a discordant fusion of early hip-hop energy and noise-rock chaos. Hella and Marnie Stern’s Zac Hill is on production duty, along with Andy Morin, and Hill brings the same mania to Death Grips as he does obliterating the drum kit. Stefan Burnett’s guttural spit cuts through but get processed and falls into the background when it needs to, pulling you in and pushing you back simultaneously. Study music, this is not. The entire album feels exactly like this moment:

Check out the dubsteppy “Lost Boys” and head-spinning electro-rap of “Get Got” for a taste.


Coming out Tuesday was the first full-length release from light asylumdarkwave purveyors Light Asylum, who floored us with 2010’s In Tension EP. Light Asylum delivers as frontwoman Shannon Funchess growls over black rainbow of electronic sound — like freestyle dance music put through the industrial meat grinder. Fuchness and collaborator Bruno Coviello are as capable of extreme aggression (the chilling “Pope Will Roll”) as they are of creating pop thrills with real bite (“IPC” and “Heart of Dust”) and genuinely affecting electro-ballads — “Sins of the Flesh” and “Shallow Tears” dig past their electronic veneers given Funchess’ operatic howl, a Grace Jones-meets-Trent Reznor monster of a voice that can break your heart just as it can make you cower. This is the real deal, an enthralling and sometimes harrowing listen, and a must-hear for any fan of bitterly great music.

santigoldMeanwhile, Santigold’s second album also was released Tuesday, and while some reviewers crowed about its supposed unevenness or spent too long talking about the “indie landscape” or something — honestly who cares about any of that? —  her first album was the undisputed summer album of 2008 and Master of My Make-Believe will probably be the same for 2012. Though her most oft-used backdrop is dancehall reggae-tinged electro pop, she wisely scuffs things up her melodies — which are notably strong, as she started as a songwriter, collaborator and A&R rep before striking out as a solo artist — with freak-out moments. “Go!” begins the album powerfully with Santigold and Karen O spinning and screeching like witches over fast and furious punky ragga beats and eerie theramin. She follows up with a comedown of great slow jams, namely with “Disparate Youth,” seemingly a follow-up to her breakout single “L.E.S. Artistes” — which bittersweetly called out hipsterdom — with a more gratifying “99% generation” statement of unity. Her songs continue to be brilliant when covering what it is to be young and creative and striving, from trying to put forth the things you’ve created without fear of failure (“God From the Machine”) to struggling with the idea of notoriety vs. anonymity (“Fame”). And despite any unfavorable comparisons to M.I.A. in the past, she proves she can hang with songs like “Freak Like Me,” which is not an Adina Howard cover but rather a twisted, Indian-flavored hip-hop jam that could have been on M.I.A.’s Kala. She occasionally tries too hard to be widely appealing, but even then the results are usually at least fun to listen to, such as “Keeper,” a tribal-sounding update of Stevie Nicks’ “Stand Back,” or the Nicki Minaj-ish “Look at These Hoes.” Mostly the album comes across as a masterful, confident pop statement from someone who is primed to accept the praise she deserves. Speaking of Nicki Minaj, don’t sleep on the troubled-but-still-amazing-in-its-first-third Roman Reloaded.

Sadly, summer’s not here yet, and on a softer note, the new album from Lower Dens has been a blessing on these days of shitty-ish weather. The songs exude a glorious haze but don’t wash out everything in reverb. They build slowly and majestically over five-minute running times, too calm to be labeled epic, but by no means dull. Jana Hunter’s brusque voice pops in and out, the kind of thing that could overshadow the band if misused, instead generating a wonderful lull of loopy vocal lines and melancholy melodies, especially on songs like standout “Brains,” which builds its tower of sunny krautrock slowly but assuredly. The more straightforward songs are a bit buried here and are all the more powerful for it — “Propagation” is a beautifully dark pop song, similar in feel to Beach House, as is “Lamb,” in which Hunter really lets loose and gets torchy, while the arrangement unveils small surprises at every turn. It’s a grower not a shower, for sure, but it’s well worth your time.

Relevant Tags

Nicki Minaj (12), Lower Dens (7), Santigold (5), Light Asylum (7), Death Grips (20), Album Reviews (4)