Music crosses generations and pays no heed to the date on your calendar – that’s its whole thing. That’s why David Bowie’s death broke so many hearts and why Canon in D Major is still an anthem. So there’s no real excuse for this reviewer to have come across and fallen for Death Grips before hearing a single Dälek track, but that’s where we are and there is no denying the clear line linking the two – so is the originator still top dog or has the young pretender stolen the crown?
Founder and heavyweight producer Oktopus does not feature on Asphalt For Eden, the sixth Dälek album, although it has been put out with his blessing. Its seven tracks exist in something of a haze with smoke pluming around Will Brooks’ vitriolic delivery, the influence of which can certainly be seen in the vocals of Death Grips’ MC Ride. Brooding opener ‘Shattered’ stalks through a minor key on the back of industrial synths still twisting hip-hop past its comfort zone, and ‘Critical’ bristles with even more latent energy.
But elsewhere the mood is much less confrontational – it is the insistent refrain of ‘Control’ rather than any gut-punch beats which gives the track its cutting edge while ‘6dB’ is trip-hop by any other name. ‘Masked Laughter (Nothing’s Left)’ is a welcome release from the stormy density built up by preceding track ‘Guaranteed Struggle’, making for a surprisingly – maybe uncharacteristically – blue-sky cut. Closing track ‘It Just Is’ digs out some human soul from the rumbling mechanics that hem in the record and Brooks, sounding more raw and impassioned than anywhere else, makes a play which may just resonate with the current school of hip-hop led by Kanye West’s genre-pushing experiments.
The family tree linking Dälek and Death Grips is a completely valid piece of musical genealogy, but if Asphalt For Eden proves anything to a Death Grips fan it is that MC Ride, Zach Hill and Andy Morin have used the New Jersey pioneers as a springboard not a safety blanket. There is a generational gap in evidence, with Dälek’s latest outfit a lot softer than the ear-shattering noise peddled by Death Grips, but that’s no bad thing and their latest release stands on its own as a welcome return from (most of) a genre-shaping group which has put forward seven slices of thoughtful individualism, while its protégés take a sonic chainsaw to the speaker cone. The warmth of Asphalt For Eden is a comfortable place from which to watch the carnage unfold.
Words - Joe Ponting