Art by Sam Haney
By Daniel Anderson
Easy listeners beware, as this band is not for the faint of heart.
Industrial hip-hop and digital hardcore icons Andy Morin, Zach Hill, and Stefan Burnett, aka MC Ride, have apparently been quite busy for the past two years. The last time they were heard was in 2016 with their previous full-length album, Bottomless Pit. This album perpetuated their incredibly unique soundscape by adding even more layers of obscurity to it.
Bottomless Pit seemed to combine everything that had built the band from its foundation, such as their acclaimed 2012 effort The Money Store, with newer and more experimental elements introduced in their 2015 double-sided album, The Powers that B. It was as if they were claiming their dominance among all others who were attempting to duplicate their sound.
Buzz revolving around Death Grips did not just stop at the content they released. The band has had a notorious reputation on the internet for being quite meme-centric, and it is clear that they revel in their reputation. Such was the case for their enigmatic Twitter profile.
After self-deleting their previous account for a short time, they announced their return to the site with the phrase “Death Grips is Online.” Soon enough, seemingly everyone following the account was being retweeted by typing down the same phrase. Often times the followers would accompany the phrase with a meme or an unsettling picture to further the band’s reputation for being disturbing to the average listener.
As 2018 came rolling in, fans were all too eager for Death Grips to make their response to all the internet madness. Alas, the release of the tracklist for their latest concoction drew in as much attention from fans as one would expect. The trio really must have been listening, since the titling of the track, “Death Grips is Online,” certainly confirmed it.
Months strolled by as the band routinely cherry-picked tracks from the new album as teasers for what was to come. The first teaser track, “Streaky,” was considerably more accessible than what most expected, whereas “Black Paint” seemed more of a call-back to the more experimental rock sound of Jenny Death, the second half of The Powers that B.
All the traps were set for Death Grips to hold the listener’s ears hostage. The major concern then was how the band would put the album together, seeing as how they had routinely changed their sound from album to album. Or perhaps a brand new sound for them would better fit the mold. Whatever the case, the band had to surprise the listeners somehow.
Luckily for them, the feedback was overwhelmingly positive, particularly among fans.
There could not have been a better way to kick off the track-listing than with the song everyone was waiting for. “Death Grips is Online” welcomes the listener for what should be a wild ride ahead of them. Distorted vocals and turntable scratching galore, this track is essentially the audio equivalent to an intense fever dream.
Speedily following the opening is, “Flies,” another teaser track. While it does not add too much to the album sonically or conceptually, it is still an enjoyable track nonetheless. Standard traits that make a Death Grips song great are all present here: unusual synths, cryptic lyrics, and MC Ride’s usual unnerving vocal performance.
Much like the song “Trash” from Bottomless Pit, the actual content of the lyrics from “Flies” portray what appears to be another statement of the band cherishing their disgusting reputation. Ride compares himself to some sort of morbid fantasy: “Should the opportunity arise, vomit me flies/Flies vomit me, together’s unwise, sever all ties.”
Transitioning afterwards comes, “Black Paint,” which could not have been a more different track. The band essentially abandons the industrial hip-hop sound and vibe in exchange for a track that bears more resemblance to a krautrock, almost even alternative rock song. It truly is atypical, even for Death Grips standards.
Malevolent and unsettling as their image typically is, there are moments on this album where it seems as if the band is not taking their content too seriously, but that is not inherently a bad thing. As mentioned before, “Streaky,” is a track that is considerably easier to listen to than most of their other material. It just sounds like the band is having fun with themselves.
There is more than one way that Death Grips expresses their sarcasm. The instrumental track “Outro” is quite hilariously titled, as it is not even the final track. That place goes to another experimental rock-esque track, aptly named, “Disappointed.”
In contrast with some of the more satirical cuts, there are also moments that are truly shudder-inducing. The 11th track,“The Fear,” (also aptly titled) borders on being unlistenable; in a good way, that is. Awry and delayed instrumental-work combined with Ride’s manic screaming make for possibly the most provocative listen on the whole album.
Track #4, “Linda’s in Custody,” is unnerving in a bit of a different way. Despite it being more relatively toned-down, it also serves as what many fans consider another instance of Death Grip’s unusual obsession with incorporating Charles Manson in their work (previous references include “Beware” from their 2011 mixtape Exmilitary and “Spikes” from Bottomless Pit).
Even though Year of the Snitch is not the most hard-hitting or caustic release that Death Grips has put together, it certainly strikes as something the new listener should not start with. Yet the challenge of merely listening to it is one of its most admirable traits.
This album finds the band once again in peak form, but not in the same way they were on more accessible projects like The Money Store. What they present here is bringing their melting pot of soundscapes to new heights; another change of pace.
The instrumental track from The Powers that B, “Death Grips 2.0,” is all too prophetic. Perhaps this album really does fulfill the title.
It really is quite an achievement for a group that has been together for almost a decade to be able to still surprise listeners with each release. Year of the Snitch is definitely no exception.
Favorite Track: “Dilemma”
Least Favorite Track: “Outro”
Release date: June 22, 2018
Composers: Stefan Burnett, Zach Hill, Andy Morin
Producers: Zach Hill, Andy Morin
Genres: Industrial hip-hop, Alternative hip-hop, Rap rock, Experimental Rock, Krautrock, Digital Hardcore, Cursed-Images-in-Sound-Form