clipping. - CLPPNG

The minute the L.A. trio clipping. emerged, combining clinically precise raps with assaultive squalls of electro-noise, they invited comparison to another California group, Death Grips. But those comparisons don’t work, and the main reason is also the main reason I can’t stand Death Grips. Here’s the thing: clipping. are, on some level, a rap group, and Death Grips are not. Stefan Burnett doesn’t really rap; he bellows and harangues and booms out cryptic slogans. He uses his voice as a blunt weapon, crashing his way through tracks, forcing you to pay attention. And his delivery is really closer to an industrial carnival-barker type, a guy like Al Jourgenson or Pigface’s Martin Atkins, than it is to, I don’t know, Kurupt. Daveed Diggs of clipping., on the other hand, is a rapper, a fast-darting double-time specialist who, in a more innocent era, would’ve probably found a home in one of those lamented West Coast underground crews. He’s someone who thinks hard about cadence, about keeping his voice in the pocket of the beat — even when the beat is really just the insistent, alarming beep-beep-beep of a truck backing up. And in a week when both Death Grips and clipping. have new music out, the contrast is stark. Death Grips have plenty of admirers around these parts, but clipping.’s sharp, mean constructions and their layered signifier play strike me as being a way deeper, more interesting achievement than what Death Grips do with niggas on the moon. And there are moments when CLPPNG is even a fun listen. Don’t worry, though. They don’t last long.

The three members of clipping. all have other things going on. Diggs is a stage actor, producer Jonathan Snipes makes music for films, and other producer William Hutson makes noise music on his own. Together, Snipes and Hutson did the music for Room 237, a documentary about people who are obsessed with the hidden messages they see in Kubrick’s The Shining. Those two also started out clipping. by making noise remixes of rap tracks, and then started making their own music when Diggs, an old friend of both, joined up. They haven’t been around for long; their Bandcamp-only debut midcity came out just over a year ago. But they’ve already grown a lot, and where midcity largely belonged to the brick-through-window school of track construction, CLPPNG pulls at least 14 different moods into its 14 tracks. For every squirming, intense burst of synthetic viscera like “Body & Blood” or “Inside Out,” there’s something like the single “Work Work,” an eerie and insinuating piece of music that owes some of its tingling texture to Steve Reich or early Aphex Twin. And for all their experimental impulses, clipping., in their press releases but also in their music, make it very clear that they consider themselves a rap group, not an ongoing comment on the statement of rap or whatever. They toy a bit with the genre’s conventions, but they also hear the genre as one that’s big and inclusive enough for whatever horrible noises they come up with. And they’re right. Rap has always been a more fluid and advanced form of music than its detractors, or even some of its devotees, are willing to believe, and it damn sure has room for these guys.

It helps, certainly that the members of clipping. are honest-to-god rap nerds, something that immediately becomes obvious when you look at CLPPNG’s tracklist. You don’t put King Tee, the forever-underrated West Coast gangsta rap godfather, on an album if you’re not a rap nerd. As the overlord of the Likwit Crew, Tee is responsible for rap careers from Madlib to Xzibit, and he’s got a handful of classics of his own, but I hadn’t heard his voice on a new track in years before hearing him sounding great on “Summertime.” Similarly, Gangsta Boo, the eternally badass sole female member of the original Three 6 Mafia, adds an effortlessly slick verse to “Tonight.” Of the tracks on CLPPNG, “Tonight” comes the closest to rap-parody status. It’s about looking for girls in the club, and its chorus includes the phrase “who fuckin’ tonight?” repeated a bunch — all familiar elements. But the track isn’t celebratory; it’s anxious and fevered, about capturing the weird desperation of looking for sex and knowing you’ve only got a few moments before the club closes. In the midst of all that wriggling uncertainty, though, there’s Boo, helpfully advising that you should “make sure you have a freak that knows how to bend and touch her toes,” sounding completely at home. “Work Work” is absolutely stolen by Cocc Pistol Cree, a tough-as-fuck young female rapper whose biggest previous credit was a showcase appearance on DJ Mustard’s Ketchup mixtape. Her mere presence on this album suggests that the members of clipping. were sitting around listening to Ketchup, were justifiably impressed by Cree on “LadyKilla,” and were moved to seek her out for a collaboration. That’s how these things should work. I have a hard time imagining Stefan Burnett and Zach Hill banging, like, PeeWee Longway tapes and letting lightbulbs go off, but their hermetic isolation style prevents the presence of actual rap music from creeping into their music. Your mileage may vary, but I think that’s too bad.

Those guest appearances also help because Diggs sounds better with other voices around his own. By himself, Diggs is a good but not great rapper — clean and rhythmically advanced but without much charisma of his own. At various moments, he reminds me of the Coup’s Boots Riley, of Latyrx’s Lateef The Truth Speaker, and of Anticon’s Sole — all, in one way or another, mainstays of the late-’90s backpack rap underground. The moment on “Tonight” where Diggs quotes Ludacris’s “What’s Your Fantasy” show that when Diggs is rapping fast, he sounds a bit like a younger Luda, but without that important snarl in his voice. But while Diggs is a bit dry and brittle as a vocal stylist, he’s also got an endlessly impressive rhythmic command. On “Intro,” he raps entirely over what sounds like a peal of guitar-amp feedback, or like the ringing in your ears after you accidentally blast music way too loudly into your headphones, and he serves as his own internal metronome, finding a beat where there is none. On spacier tracks like “Taking Off,” too, his delivery becomes an important element of the beat, serving as, more or less, the drum track. Diggs is also a hell of a writer, capable of coming up with images that linger in your mind long after you hear him describing them. Here he is, on “Taking Off”: “What is in the mind of a motherfucking killer when he chilling on the porch with his daughter in is lap? Peace.” He delivers all that as one breathless string of consonants, then pauses for a split-second to let the image sit in. A few seconds later, he’s going on further about killers and contradictions: “The only God here is the Jesus piece they rocking like hipsters rock Jeezy tees: ironic.” If you’re reading this site and you’ve ever owned a Snowman shirt (I had one, orange glitter Snowman), it’s an uncomfortable pang of recognition; Diggs has roped you into this fucked-up world he’s describing.

And in its prioritization of discomfort, CLPPNG owes nearly as much to industrial music — old industrial music, like Throbbing Gristle and Cabaret Voltaire — as it owes to rap. That’s how we end up with something like “Story 2,” a deeply fucked up narrative track about a working stiff who returns home to find his children burning to death. “Body & Blood” is constructed like a you-a-bad-chick sex song, but it moves quickly toward Cronenberg-style body horror: “She don’t need you for shit but your dick and your veins and your guts and your body and blood.” Throughout, the group makes music with deeply unpleasant sounds: Feedback, sirens, dental-drill whines. Closing track “Williams Mix” is a rap-free glitch collage, and it’s the only track I skip. The greatest parallel between clipping. and Death Grips is that both really do make bracing, tooth-jangling, impossible-to-ignore music. It’s just that clipping. manage that while, at the same time, making rap. As someone who loves rap, and who loves hearing what can be done with it, that makes a listen to the album as gratifying as it is harrowing.

CLPPING is out now on Sub Pop. Stream it here.

Other albums of note out this week:

• Jack White’s messy, feverish, effective Lazaretto.
• Tombs’ transcendently bruising scuzz-metal assault Savage Gold.
• Tomas Barfod’s pulsing, melodic, beautifully wrought Love Me.
• Lust For Youth’s gorgeous synthpopper International.
• First Aid Kit’s rootsy glimmer Stay Gold.
• The Fresh & Onlys’ expansively psychedelic House Of Spirits.
• Chrissie Hynde’s decades-late, Bjorn Yttling-produced solo debut Stockholm.
• Trap Them’s life-affirming metalcore blitzkrieg Blissfucker.
• Wreck & Reference’s sputtering, grimy, misanthropic Want.
• Mayhem’s progressive black metal bugout Esoteric Warfare.
• Alexander Turnquist’s 12-string guitar meditation Flying Fantasy.
• The Atlas Moth’s psych-metal odyssey The Old Believer.
• Craft Spells’ internet-obsessed indie-pop effort Nausea.
• Former Altar Of Plagues frontman WIFE’s solo electronic debut What’s Between.
• Stagnant Pools’ noise/shoegaze crossover move Geist.
• Dub Thompson’s lightly psychedelic debut 9 Songs.
• Popcaan’s carefree but commanding dancehall full-length Where We Come From.
• Free Cake For Every Creature’s DIY debut Pretty Good.
• The Jónsi-heavy How To Train Your Dragon 2 soundtrack.
• The soccer-and-soda Pepsi Beats Of The Beautiful Game compilation.
• Dust Of 1000 Yrs. and Bad History Month’s Famous Cigarettes split EP.

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Comments (19)
  1. Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see

  2. interesting write up although not too big of a fan of the album. Seems like its a preferred taste not a lack of skill.

    that being said I’m actually really into the new Jack White album. I absolutely hated Blunderbuss at first because it was just not what I was expecting from White but after giving it the golden three listen rule I fell in love with it especially songs like “Freedom At 21″ and “Weep Themselves To Sleep”. I think the same could be said for Lazaretto for me and after getting over the claustrophobic first listen I’m starting to appreciate just how great of a musician White is regardless of his media rep these days. I’m also a little bothered that everyone is still expecting another White Stripes album from the guy since its nice that he has found a new direction to go even if it doesn’t necessarily live up to his previous work

    But my pick has to go to First Aid Kit. Never heard them until today so I have a lot of back catalogue to dig through but I was really impressed with the vocals first listen. Its very good pop songs mixed with Americana style and its super accessible to the point I havent found a bad song or really anything bad to say about the duo so they’ll be my band for the week.

    Also that new New Pornographers song has got me revisiting Mass Romantic and Twin Cinema, two near perfect albums that really started me in the direction to appreciate what it means to write solid pop songs

    • d-brad  |   Posted on Jun 10th +13

      Haven’t heard them until today, but already changed your avatar to them. It was love at first sight.

  3. I wouldn’t say the Death Grips comparisons don’t work, at least not as much as they didn’t work with Yeezus, because if Stefan Burnett isn’t rapping, then what is he doing? It’s certainly not conventional rapping and if taken out of the destructive setting it would be totally unlistenable rapping, but there’s flow there. They got hooks. You can’t tell me that Burnett isn’t spitting bars on Takyon or I Seen Footage. Maybe for someone like you, who is an honest-to-god hip hop dork, has been for a long time, and prefers a straight-man MC, Death Grips isn’t gonna vibe. And that’s okay — that shit definitely ain’t for everyone.

    Back to the reason we’re here — Clipping. It’s good! Didn’t

  4. If this isn’t a fun album, I don’t know what is.

  5. What’s up with Stereogum writers having to shit on a well-established band before reviewing an album? Anyway, this album is phenomenal and unique, though I’d be remiss to neglect giving a shout-out to the new Fresh & Onlys record. Seems like these guys are always grossly underrated, even compared to their San Fran friends Ty Segall and Thee Oh Sees. Great summer record.

  6. But MC Ride can rap. His delivery may be unorthodox, but if you read the lyrics and try to follow what he’s saying its actually pretty impressive how he manages to contort and mold his language into something that’s catchy and linguistically interesting (find me another rapper that can make “bangin bones on roland/jungle rottin/chicken skeletal system bombin/unidentified genre abductor/hit it from the back/formula fucker” sound as good as MC Ride does.)

    I also have to disagree with the claim that Death Grips aren’t deep or intelligent. Death Grip’s music isn’t overtly intellectual. In fact, a lot of it is just plain dumb fun. However, there’s something genius about a band that manages to embody the kind of depraved, ecstasy ridden, desperate, and hyper self-aware character that MC Ride puts on, rather than merely describing or narrating that character.

    Sorry if this seems like I’m stretching things in attempt to over-analyze Death Grip’s music, but the band’s aesthetic and approach to music reminds me of Deleuze’s “body without organs” concept. I won’t go into detail trying to describe it, but a close analogue in music that I can find is Michael Gira’s work in Swans. Both in lyrical content and musical composition, Death Grips create the sound of a body being taken to a limit-experience; a body that is being afflicted by drugs, pain, neurosis, pop-cultural stimuli, and information saturation to the point that the self is obliterated. In a similar manner to Swans, Death Grips pushes through the abrasiveness and pain to reach ecstasy and transcendence.

    Just something to think about next time you hear “Soon your crew will be servin’ sandwiches named after me/Vietnamese style fool” and think to yourself “wow, these guys have no fucking idea what they’re talking about, do they?” Because chances are, you’re being schooled in 20th century continental philosophy, bitch.

    • Oh boy, somebody thinks they understand “20th century continental philosophy” because they can drop a fatuous reference to Deleuze. Sounds like every awful party where I get stuck talking to someone with a Master’s in “_____ Studies”

      • Kinda just busting on you because THAT GUY (you know the one with the gross facial hair and the weird hat) always wants to talk about Deleuze… for the record, I actually like what you’ve been posting around here. But doesn’t it kind of neuter the avant-garde impulses of acts like Swans and Death Grips if we make sense of them by imposing a theoretical framework that was played out decades ago?

      • lol, if you’re referencing the end of my post , I’m sorry. I thought it was clear that I was trying to undercut some of the pretension with a bit of sarcasm. But I don’t claim to know much about Deleuze at all. It was just the closest idea/image I could cling to (that I knew of) to make my point. I’m not even 100% sure I made the right connection there. I was mostly thinking about the BWO with regard to Deleuze talking about drug addicts.

        Also, I just think that connecting music like this to a theoretical system allows me to better describe music that otherwise must be felt/experienced to truly understand. That sounds a little corny, but I think its true. I also think connections like this are kind of useful, if only because they provide new ways to approach the material (especially in the case of Death Grips, who I think come off as really shallow/stupid on first listen). But yeah, I think you’re right about the neutering, which is why I don’t think any attempt to intellectualize Death Grips will be as profound or meaningful as actually listening to the music would be.

  7. Album Of The Week: Albm F Th Wk

  8. The arguments about Death Grips being unintelligent or MC Ride not rapping are both wrong, though there is some truth to latter issue.

    Ride can rap, yes, but apart from his work on Exmilitary and The Money Store, he hasn’t done much resembling rapping since. Yes, he raps on No Love Deep Web, Government Plates and N___as On The Moon, but it’s not very formed and his vocals are generally dominated by his shouts and rants, coming off more like hardcore, as arsetothat stated, or a sample-based manipulation than a coherent message. Furthermore, for every intelligent reference on The Money Store like sloppymilkshake’s aforementioned quote from Hacker (“sandwiches named after me”, etc.), there are lines like “I’m the coat hanger in your man’s vagina” from Deep Web.

    What really stands out is that Death Grips aren’t a “rap” or “hip-hop” group, despite Ride rapping at times. Also, I don’t feel like their more recent work is nearly as interesting as what they were doing two years ago, with some of their material feeling phoned-in, but that’s just how I feel. After all the weird things they’ve done over the last two years, I don’t know whether to take them seriously or not, which is probably part of their grand plan. If so, they’re masters at disillusionment, though it could also be they’re just not as good as they were.

    True story: I was at an indie shop I frequent recently and the guy behind the counter was chatting with me about clipping. and Death Grips. His words, which I thought were brilliant, were that “Death Grips are like a Will Ferrell movie; you can never take him seriously, even when he’s trying to be serious, because he’s always looking to yank your chain”.

    To bounce back to clipping., I really like their new album and feel it’s a big move forward from their previous release. Diggs sounds much more inspired and focused on both of these releases than on his solo mixtape, and despite being heavily noise-influenced, Snipes’ and Hutson’s beats are so much more than just clicks and glitches. The storytelling and production are top notch and I can’t wait to hear more from them.

    Two final things: First off, Tom, I don’t know if you’re aware of it, but Williams Mix is an interpretation of a John Cage work of the same name, and they even credit him as the author of the piece in the credits to CLPPNG. If anything, it’s more of a shout-out to one of their influences than simple abstraction or noise for noise’s sake. That might not make you enjoy it more, but I think it’s important for framing the perspective. Second, I suppose you didn’t have to mention Snipes’ history in Captain Ahab, but I think that also shows some of where clipping.’s influence and style comes from. He was in a group messing with standard concepts of music and performance, much like Zach Hill is with Hella and the ten-thousand other groups he’s contributed to. Death Grips and clipping. have a lot in common, though I hope people are able to see past the easy comparisons since both groups are otherwise almost completely different from each other.

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