Death Grips, on the verge of ubiquity and with a major-label release, leak their own album anyway (and it’s a doozy)

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Death Grips performing live. ()
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The Sacramento, California-based avant-rap crew Death Grips is hardly the first group to suffer an online leak mere days before a major-label debut. Though they are more equipped than most to handle it with aplomb.

After all, the band first came to the attention of listeners who love genre-scrambling hip-hop last year on the strength of a freely downloadable mixtape, titled Exmilitary. That same release—somewhat surprisingly—led to a signing by Epic Records. Even more surprising, when announced earlier this year, was the news that the label planned to release two new Death Grips albums in 2012. First reaction: what a corporate commitment to some raw-sounding music! And secondly: well, so long to free-mixtape culture, then?

The difference in distribution methods seemed to be split, though, as songs from the first Epic-distributed collection, titled The Money Store, started trickling out in the late winter months. Before The Money Store leaked late last week, four of its thirteen tracks were already available to download on the band’s website.

For any listeners who wondered whether the major-label move would compromise the band’s sound, this fact served as a hint that at least the corporate structure hadn’t compromised their online generosity. A promotional deal with BitTorrrent—in which fans could download a video and the first four self-leaked songs—also seemed like a way of keeping free-culture faith with a target demographic.

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Now that the album, set for an official physical and online release on Tuesday April 24, has leaked in a more complete (and in what looks like unofficial) fashion, the band responded by putting the whole thing on Soundcloud over the weekend—in much the same way the Beastie Boys reacted to the unsanctioned leak of their latest album, last year.

Death Grips - Hacker by deathgrips

When Pitchfork declared “I’ve Seen Footage” a “best new track” last week, the post praised the beat’s metric resemblance to Salt 'n' Pepa's “Push It.” On the one hand, that isn’t such an unusual move in 2012; “Push It” was already made safe for 21st century consumption, in part, by its inclusion in an opus by mashup artist Girl Talk. But it would have been disappointing if, after dipping into the pop-nostalgia bag of tricks, Death Grips came out sounding just like a party.

What surprises throughout The Money Store, on a first listen, is how well synthesized these pop references are—since so much that made Death Grips instantly appealing and distinct remains intact. The flow of MC Ride’s technique still depends on his switching, without warning, between stuttering, ecstatic fragments of hype work and some doomy moments that would sound reflective or pensive, if only they weren’t shouted so loudly. (A lyric sheet will be needed, as with Exmilitary, before a full accounting of Ride’s mind can be attempted. In fact: that’s a good strategy for Epic. If the official lyrics aren’t posted online, maybe people will shell out for the physical product.)

The percussive battery presided over by Zach Hill—he’s the same drummer on indie-rock shredder Marnie Stern’s first three albums—still makes for a clatter of staccato delights. If a few of the world-beat melodic fragments, like the foregrounded sample on Money Store track “Get Got,” remind you of Kala-era M.I.A., that seems likely by design (or at least like part of a marketing explanation delivered to Epic’s bureaucracy).

No matter the machinations, it seems that there’s a legitimate “moment” brewing here. On Monday morning—the first full business day since the posting of The Money Store on Soundcloud—Pitchfork published another assessment of a song form the album, bringing its total number of tracks they have individually reviewed already to five.

The website declared album-closer “Hacker” a best new track (again). Maybe Epic Records knew what they were doing all along; in any case, get ready to hear more about Death Grips. As far as the Internet hype cycle goes, there are far worse things that can (and have) found their way to being stuck on repeat.