Once More Unto The Breach...
Before I get around to reviewing Death Grips’ new album, ‘Year of the Snitch’, I have something I want to rant about, and a giant ego that won’t tolerate me not doing so. I’m talking about the weird speculation about this group’s mental health, particularly that of vocalist, MC Ride.
Yes, mental health is definitely important, and yes, artists and musicians often suffer from mental illnesses. (I assure you that the Venn Diagram between musicians and people who suffer from depression and anxiety would be massive). Yet it’s a little strange just how often Death Grips’ fans are seen in comment sections wondering just how fucked up and twisted this trio must be personally in order to do what they do, which is make particularly odd yet interesting experimental hip-hop accompanied by particularly odd music videos and strange often blunt promotional practices. Apparently the band's three members, when met by fans, all seem like pretty normal people. Oh my god, stop the presses! Yes, they could be putting on a front of normality like most people do, but to take a Slavoj Žižek quote totally out of context (my medal iscoming in the mail), “what if the opposite were true?” Artists create personas all the time, think of Tyler, the Creator, or Eric Andre, or even Filthy Frank, before he changed his pseudonym, moved to the joji moniker, and started making the moody soundtrack to teenagers’ self-harm. ('Yeah Right' is awesome, though -Ed).
My point is, frontman MC Ride, drummer Zach Hill and producer/keyboardist/sampler Andy Morin could have mental health issues. Or, y'know, they could just be three weird but creative dudes with a real appreciation for fucking with people musically. Because we will probably never know, the speculation is pointless, so can we just be excellent to each other and listen to some cool tunes?
Speaking of that, time to get back to that review that I started!
Don't miss a beat with our FREE daily newsletter
Fans of Death Grips’ last album, 2016's most excellent ‘Bottomless Pit’, may be disappointed to read that the band hasn’t followed the metal influence that was so prominent on that release. While you can hear distinct sludge-metal influences in a song like ‘Black Paint’, there are no intense metal guitars here (see ‘Giving Bad People Good Ideas’) nor any of those wicked, stomach-churning riffs (the mental ‘Ring A Bell’). For me, the feeling is a little bittersweet. Death Grips are always experimenting with different overarching sounds to define each new album, and that’s fucking awesome - I’ll always commend them for that! But I did wish that instead of exploring a more understated sound on a new LP, that they catch their breath and maintain their hardcore/metal influences for at least one more album.
The predominant sound of ‘Year of the Snitch’ is significantly less aggressive than their previous work, particularly in the vocal department. MC Ride uses his screaming - which by now is as central to the group's sound as he is himself - less as the centerpiece for his vocals and more as punctuating backing vocal lines. The songs ‘Streaky’ and ‘Little Richard’ show this well, to the point that I’d describe both tracks as this albums set “bangers”. Not quite to the level of ‘I’ve Seen Footage’ or ‘Bubbles Buried In This Jungle’, but still. On these tracks, Ride’s rapping is much more reserved than usual, to the degree that I would actually describe it only as “rapping” instead of “yelling” or “screaming”, which were far more appropriate descriptors for previous albums vocal performances. The same applies to the song ‘Flies’, with the manic yelling used more sparingly, distinguishing the styles of vocals from each other.
The more reserved vocals compliment the production too, which is also a lot more reserved and less extreme than Death Grips’ other material; incorporating a fair amount of neo-psychedelia influences. The opening track, ‘Death Grips Is Online’, is still full of Andy's trademarked synths and distorted bleeps and bloops, but they’re less overbearing than what fans might expect. Zach's energetic drumming is still present, of course, but on this track in particular they contribute to the song almost sounding like a genuine dance track. The psychedelic sound is really noticeable on ‘Dilemma’, and I’m not the first person to notice that. In the comment section of it's YouTube video, one commenter suggests that the track sounds like King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard. While I wouldn’t go that far, as Death Grips are filthy teases and they would never grace us with five damn albums in a single year, there is a nugget of truth somewhere in there.
The final track, ‘Disappointed’, which I enjoyed a hell of a lot, sports a psychedelic sound while also incorporating MC Ride’s trademark yelling more than most other songs. The main features of this track are frequent vocal samples with MC Ride’s yelled vocals on top of his regular rapping, the combination of sounds is really disorienting, but not in a bad way, which adds quite a bit to the psychedelic nature. Another song that fits the old-school Death Grips ethos of “yelling into the void” is ‘Shitshow’, which is more or less exactly what it sounds like; barely two minutes of total fuckin' mayhem. Unfortunately, the track doesn’t do it for me. Since it’s placed smack dead in the middle of the album, and is mercifully short, it takes the place of an‘instrumental interlude’, but I won't shit on it too much. It’s not terrible, just all over the place and kind of a filler track within the general flow of 'Year Of The Snitch'.
One strong theme throughout much of Death Grips’ oeuvre is the overwhelming presence of the internet (praise be), and the group’s awareness of the internet’s influence definitely hasn’t changed during the break between releases. In the run-up to release, the band posted a picture of Andrew Adamson in the studio with them - the director of motherfucking Shrek - who recorded a ten-second long monologue only used at the beginning of, Dilemma’. (If that's not "Death Grips", then I don't know what the hell is).
Speaking of that song and the internet, I’m bloody certain that the sample they use at the track’s very beginning is the same stock music that opens the movie Birdemic: Shock and Terror. I’m not joking listen to it and then watch one of dozens of videos explaining how terrible that movie is (or get the Blu-Ray like a friend did for my birthday this year) and you won’t be able to unhear it. Hell, even title of this album’s opening track, ‘Death Grips Is Online’ is a reference to the group’s cryptic and uniquely meme-able online promotions and fan interactions. Despite the fact that Death Grips are so self-aware they’re about to transcend humanity and join the baby at the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey, I love it when artists highlight the fact that the internet is real-life. Just as it does have real effects and isn’t some sort of digital Arcadia that’s separated from the rest of the universe. More bands need to start doing this, pronto.
While Death Grips have changed their sound (again) and toned it down somewhat from the extremity of previous releases, which disappointed me a little personally ('Bottomless Pit' is still the shit), they possess the song-writing chops necessary to make said change a graceful one. Sure, this isn’t going to be my go-to‘Death Grips album or even scrape by into my top three, but even the band’s lesser material is still pretty good. And look, you cannot say that about most other artists.
1. Death Grips Is Online
3. Black Paint
4. Linda's in Custody
5. The Horn Section
10. Little Richard
11. The Fear
'Year Of The Snitch' is out now.