An Exploration: Death Grips’ Year of the Snitch

The Sacramento-based experimental hip-hop trio have released a project that mixes up plenty of fresh, new sounds even if some ideas fail to deliver

Death Grips performing in NYC, Source: Wikimedia Commons

Favourite Tracks: Death Grips is Online, Flies, Black Paint, Linda’s in Custody

Rating: 7/10

Year of the Snitch (YOTS) is Death Grips’ sixth studio album, following in the footsteps of 2016’s Bottomless Pit, a record that condensed all the scraping, jittering, and screaming of their previous efforts into 13 tracks of pure and relentless anger. Despite Bottomless Pit’s own shortcomings, I found myself engaged with every punchy, distorted synth, and every ferocious lyric – an experience YOTS couldn’t repeat for me.

Certain tracks, especially the instrumentals, feel unloved and thrown together; others underwhelm with their lyrical content; and some, where Death Grips have delved more into the punk and noise-rock genres, come across almost like unstructured demos. Still, there are numerous moments on the new album that conjure up Death Grips’ original industrial aesthetic, the raw noise that made many fans fall in love with them to start with, and moments that showcase the group’s hybridity in exploring a new, refreshing sound-world.

The trend that I noticed throughout YOTS is that the songs, excluding ‘Disappointed’ at the end of the project, seem to deteriorate in quality from one to the next, starting off strong and finishing weak. It should come as no surprise then that my favourites are the first four tracks. I would probably name ‘Death Grips is Online’, the opener, as the flagship of YOTS. Zach Hill and Andy Morin, the two Death Grips produces, on this track, deliver an electric combination of uniquely melodic hooks and synths that slide between being smooth and ragged; while MC Ride, lyricist and rapper, mutters cryptically about ‘black Madonna’ and ‘pretty, pretty nine’ – it’s a sound I didn’t know Death Grips could pull off. The track doesn’t quite match the catchiness of something like ‘Hacker’ from The Money Store, but it still showcases the group’s ability to work wonders with simple melody.

If you were paying attention to Twitter in September 2017, you might have noticed that the track’s name, ‘Death Grips is Online’, was leaked in a tweet by Death Grips after a year of inactivity, the phrase quickly becoming something of a meme. Whether the tweet or the track came first we’ll never know, but it seems clear that Death Grips were keen to hammer in its importance.

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‘Flies’ is perhaps the most ‘traditionally Death Grips’ track of YOTS, not that it’s easy to pin down such a sound with the group’s eclectic genre-mixing. Its lyrics are peppered with allusions to death and decomposition – MC Ride violently expressing his desire to become a corpse so that flies can vomit and digest him. Listening to the words is a delight for the morbidly curious. Jagged and distressing production, assisted by DJ Swamp, provides the necessary soundscape for such dark themes, sampling ‘System Blower’, another Death Grips track, in the process. Right off the back of ‘Flies’ and its noisy, machine-like outro, ‘Black Paint’ enters with a whole new sound – drums, distorted guitar, bass, and a barking MC Ride take over. It’s the first track of YOTS to delve into a punk-like style, and for me, it’s the last track that utilises this style successfully.

The eponymous Linda from the track ‘Linda’s in Custody’ is likely Linda Kasabian, a former member of Charles Manson’s infamous cult. Her inclusion in the track continues Death Grips’ intriguing fascination with Manson and his acts, a link first established in ‘Beware’ from the record Exmilitary. Ride’s voice is at its quietest here, grumbling under the creepy, subdued and detuned leads, and interspersed with bouts of energetic synth movement. ‘The Horn Section’ – which, ironically, contains no horns – is where the album’s cracks begin to appear. Being a short, instrumental offering, it appears a wasted opportunity within YOTS. Although, thanks to Zach’s incredible drumming, it is far more exciting a track than the bland ‘Outro’, it still fails to provide the same creative attack found in the record’s first four tracks.

‘Shitshow’ does what it says on the tin – it’s absolute chaos contained in a two minutes of song. With no internal pulse or discernible hook, its concoction of crazed drumming, shouting and fractured production doesn’t align well with my love of Death Grips’ more beat-heavy work (think ‘Get Got’ and ‘Ring A Bell’). Nevertheless, ‘Shitshow’ is anything but boring.

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Further into YOTS, the two punkish tracks ‘Dilemma’ and ‘The Fear’ both suffer from a jumbled sense of musical direction and weak identifying features, containing bitty fragments of guitar and drums that jostle for prominence in the layers of electronic production. The last of the record, ‘Disappointed’, is a welcome pick-me-up after the preceding tracks. Ride’s hyper-aggressive delivery puts forward a clear message: Death Grips don’t care if their ‘slack jaw’ fans are disappointed with YOTS. They’re not concerned with the opinion of the masses. Even the track’s main hook imitates the whining reviewers and critics – a class of which I am now a member.

YOTS exists in its own world, defined by a looser and more absurdist approach to hip-hop. Despite the record’s failure to recreate the melancholic punk side of Jenny Death, its attempts are still admirable, and I would not for a second wish for Death Grips to abandon this style completely. Zach, Andy and Ride are driving the group in a new direction, and yet, even if none of YOTS had as deep an emotional impact on me as the visceral parts of The Money Store and The Powers That B, some of it, like the track ‘Death Grips is Online’, is still undeniably brilliant and fresh in its conception. I can’t wait to hear what you come up with next, so keep it coming Death Grips.