Government Plates
Death Grips
released 13 nov 2013
industrial hip-hop
written 13 nov 2023

Ten years on from its initial free release online, their first album after completely cutting ties with Epic Records, Government Plates, is without a doubt one of Death Grips's most enigmatic, cryptic, and creative records—and their following catalog would not be the same without it. Its visual complements add to the absurd, digitized mania festering on the record, and tied together they create a flawed but endearingly human and effectually inventive album.

The disjointed feeling from those short, interjecting tracks showcasing more of Andy Morin and Zach Hill's instrumental expertise, can range from a quick addendum, adding to the overall experience between Ride's cryptic musings, or simply an odd pause that—while still from a production standpoint incredibly envelope-pushing—can at times take away from the record's thesis as tirade against outside media interests, governments, casual observers, and insignificant posturers, and the online surveillance realm as a parallel to all those mentioned.

Its opening track, 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, while boasting a (seemingly) nonsensical title, is one of the band's most abrasive, nearly to a fault, while still showcasing effectively an unhinged trip of ego death, contractual obligations be damned. It is the thesis statement of the thesis statement, everything on the track pointing towards being unabashedly free, mirroring the final track in a manic sensibility over the latter's more airy, almost intangible substance. At times the nauseating energy of this first cut can be its downfall, not truly feeling connected to the rest of the record; taken in a vacuum it may be more effective, though the separation between it and the rest of the record is still an interesting turn. It is not being inviting, though it knows it's not trying to be.

Anne Bonny as the second-track follow-up is the record's first taste of acutely fusing the other two band members' wildly avant-garde electronics with Ride's lyrics, taking on here a piratic, drug-addled escapism. It is one of the band's greatest instrumentals they've put to tape, a warping and tangled mess of synth patches that matches in stride with the calling card of the track. It highlights a creative mask at the same time, hiding behind the surveillance camera twitching in its accompanying video; and while its deepest meanings are obfuscated, an artistic ambiguity, its effect is still as potent as each of the parts making up its framing.

After the one-two, completely disparate punches of its start, Two Heavens and This Is Violence Now (Don't Get Me Wrong) is the first example of the off-kilter midsection of the record, never feeling entirely known or understood. The deathly anecdotes of the former work quite well, a seeming outcry of hell as still heaven to a twisted soul—though its effective heaviness is offset simply by its ending cut off by the almost clubby rager of its following track. The instrumental is absolutely manic, truly insane when all of its contorted, swishing parts merge into themselves, yet the mastery of it often doesn't match with what preceded it. The cut is a paranoid display of the band's production talents, even if it subtly sacrifices the personal edge of the tracks it is sandwiched between.

Birds is its follow-up, a track of a thousand meanings, truly offering no exact meaning for Ride's poetic ambiguity of counting flighty expectations falling away. No matter its deeper personal affect, his inflection and drive over such a subtly off-putting instrumental like this is masterful. Its meaning is hazy, but it adds to the shakiness of the record in a positive way, lacking a direct interpretation that would give the record no deeper meaning at all.

And its two-minute follow-up Feels Like a Wheel, while a surface-level, danceable illusion, in fact feels more of a cyclical repetition of the hopelessness felt on Birds; that preceding track had an edge of life as an absurd backdrop, with this quick almost-instrumental, simple epilogue adding an intoxicating fixation on it. And in a similar vein, I'm Overflow right after is its mirror-image, referencing schizophrenia in its overflowing on dopamine while simultaneously falling into a cycle of repeating phrases, hoping for or spiraling in order to confirm their truths. In that way, its already-engaged-with style is kept fresh, even if in the grand scheme of the record it lacks a solely unique focus—though the whole record flirts with mixing meanings and overlapping, re-hashed fervor, effectively tying this track in.

Big House though, while feeling outwardly vague or even tiring like other parts of this record's bulk, still begins with an absolutely enthralling instrumental, leading the track well into its symbolism of the Chateau Marmont as a prison, and musing for freedom away from the place's disparities and brainrot. That symbolic point of attack is seriously affecting, even if the track's quality doesn't amount to much more than its parts as individual motifs (though that light criticism falls on other tracks here like This Is Violence Now, I'm Overflow, and the two cuts to follow). It simply revels in its accompanying energy in a better way than the record's lower moments, making its statement a bit more substantial.

The tracks antepenultimate attack contains yet more frantic production, though that title track's generalized attacks on governments and forced conformity are the LP's most surface-level. Still though, the chorus of "Government plates / On location / I'm a corporation / Fuck location" still sticks well, despite its lukewarm energy. Bootleg (Don't Need Your Help) as the penultimate cut is, to this day, one of their least important tracks in its accompanying narrative; it hints towards online piracy as do previous cuts, but without adding anything, its repeated line adds little to what is also likely the least substantive instrumental on the record.

Which makes the absolutely harrowing end to the record even more of an anomaly; Whatever I Want (Fuck Who's Watching) has an incredible start calling towards piracy, connecting it to surveillance, and being in control as an arbiter of true identity. It is one of the most dynamic and impressive methods of displaying a record's purpose in a single track throughout their entire discography. The verses air themselves out as attacks from Ride, calling back to the first track in this death of their identity through their art being observed; "My head in furnace / Proof of purchase" as a repeated mantra declares Ride himself as being the art being bought and sold, while later disparaging people whose identities are imposed by what they observe. It is fervent in its lurking mockery, coming from a band whose art is a punkish rebellion in simply being freely themselves.

The album as a whole operates in a way similar, where its guiding feelings operate slightly below the main currents, only truly rearing in key moments, by which Ride shows his arcane lyricism. And even if more than a bulk of the record feels like it is hiding itself, only showing a pattern of something greater or more critical in the record's undertones, its highs mostly outweigh those seeming faults of the LP's foundations. There's many moments of many tracks here that can be weightless, a torrent of repeated stanzas without a connective tissue, shifting for its production aesthetic instead of shifting by capping off a point. But its flailing matches in lock-step with parts of its purpose, a freer expression bound only to the high talent ceilings of the group's members—they just simply hit that ceiling less often on this record than some of their other works.

flat 3 / 5
created by hand, by nat!

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