Death Grips have to be the most love-it-or-hate-it proposition on the musical landscape today. If you’re not a fan — and I’m not — then they can be a profound irritant. It’s not just the intentionally grating blurt-blare of their music. It’s the entire package: The album-cover dick pic, the festival no-shows, the sudden breakup and reunion, the Reddit threads full of breathless fans attempting to retrofit the group’s erratic existence into something like a worldview. If you are, let’s say, a professional music blogger, then Death Grips’ whole prank-centric presence is enough to drive you up a fucking wall. So it’s been easy to miss the fact that two of the three Death Grips have been quietly making dizzy, cranked-up psychedelic garage rock, releasing three albums in the last two years. And it’s been even easier to miss the reality that they’ve gotten really fucking good.
The I.L.Y’s are a curious entity. Zach Hill and Andy Morin, the two non-MC Ride people in Death Grips, don’t play live. They don’t announce their albums ahead of time, at least not in any traditional way. (They might drop hints.) Those albums arrive suddenly, and Bodyguard, the new one, is about to be the first to get an actual release on an actual label. It’s coming out on Castle Face, the label run by Thee Oh Sees frontman John Dwyer, which is almost too perfect. Like Thee Oh Sees, the I.L.Y’s maintain an uneasy balance between hormone-addled, riff-drunk party-rock insanity and guttural, confounding experimental noise. They don’t sound anything like Death Grips, and yet they’re very much a side project; if you’re not caught up with whatever Death Grips are doing, you probably don’t even know who the I.L.Y’s are. But with Bodyguard, they’ve given us, I would argue, an album a whole lot more bracing and immediate and fun and welcoming than anything Death Grips will ever allow themselves to make.
Zach Hill, of course, had a rich musical legacy even before Death Grips. As the drummer in Hella, he was the force pushing forward one of the early century’s great hyperactive noise-rock duos, the one band who could arguably beat Lightning Bolt at their own game. He was a part of Team Sleep, the post-rock band led by Deftones frontman Chino Moreno that released one album in 2005. He played on three great Marnie Stern albums. In the early-’00s moment when the Baltimore EDM producer and joke-rapper Cex turned toward making really weird and insular rock music, Hill was the guy he was making it with. Hill was part of the all-drummer supergroup Weiss/Cameron/Hill with Sleater-Kinney’s Janet Weiss and Soundgarden’s Matt Cameron. For about five seconds, he was a member of Wavves. Point is: He’s been around. And yet it’s a shock to hear him cranking out a self-assured, badass rock record like Bodyguard.
Hill is both the songwriter and the producer behind the I.L.Y’s. And while the group’s last two albums had plenty of restless fuzz-attack energy, Bodyguard is something else. It’s a huge leap forward. You can hear it in the strutting, synthetic noise-riff that leads off opening song “Wash My Hands Shorty,” a total fuck-monster of a track. You can hear it in the revved-up fury of “Quietly Being The Best,” which sounds like what might’ve happened if Suicide had just decided to become the rockabilly marauders they always pretended to be after they released their first album. You can hear it in the starry-eyed vroom of “I Love You Man,” the rare krautrock song that puts the emphasis on rock instead of kraut. This is an album full of hooks and riffs and songs, one that never lets up once in its 32-minute runtime. For everything Hill has done over his years in underground music, I didn’t know he had it in him.
This is a weird thing to say about the frantic fuzz-rock side project of an experimental noise-rap group, but I would love to see what could happen if the I.L.Y’s ever sold out, if they tried to clean up their music more in an effort to appeal to an audience beyond whoever is keeping obsessive tabs on Death Grips. Bodyguard is a more physical and instinctive record than the last two I.L.Y’s affairs, but if there’s anything holding it back, it’s the fixation on noise and disruption. Hill, it turns out, is a hell of a songwriter. There are moments on Bodyguard where he sounds like a straight-up rock star. And based on Bodyguard, I’d love to hear him try to become one.
The self-released Bodyguard is out now digitally. The physical release is coming 6/16 on Castle Face. Stream it below.
Other albums of note out this week:
• Thunder Dreamer’s gorgeous old-school indie rocker Capture.
• Cende’s emotionally knotty power-popper #1 Hit Single.
• Lil Yachty’s happy-rap offical debut Teenage Emotions.
• Pet Symmetry’s self-aware all-star punk rocker Vision.
• Molly Nilsson’s strutting synth-popper IMAGINATIONS.
• Danzig’s power-wailing comeback attempt Black Laden Crown.
• Suicide member Martin Rev’s solo album Demolition 9.
• The Charlatans’ throwback Britpopper Different Days.
• Suffering Hour’s black/death metaller In Passing Ascension.
• Nick Cave and Warren Ellis’ score for the movie War Machine.
• The all-covers benefit compilation Cover Your Ass Vol. 1.
• Swet Shop Boys’ Sufi La EP.