“I require privacy. I’m always thinking finally. Dreaming, feigning. Changing, cheating.”
Here comes an amateur album review.
Whenever any article is written about Death Grips it always starts by calling them an experimental rap trio from Sacramento consisting of vocalist MC Ride, drummer Zach Hill and sound engineer/fuck knows what Andy Morin. This creates an image for people that don’t know the band that is totally wrong though really. At first Death Grips pushed the boundaries of what could be considered Hip Hop but now they are far past that. You can’t really pin down what the hell they are as they are basically a genre all on their own. They are chaotic, crazy, aggressive, catchy, unique, confusing, primal and goddamn intense.
This has been the first album release of theirs for which I have been able to look forward to as a fan. I really got into them around the time their last album was released two years ago and so their whole discography was already there for me to digest. The build up to the album has been strange and that was to be expected. The cover art for the album is quite disgusting. I can just imagine somebody flicking through my vinyl collection and wondering what the hell this particular album sounds like based on an image of somebody holding a table with holes in and horrible mouths sticking out of it. Then there is the album title – Year of the Snitch. Who is the snitch? What have they snitched about? And why is it their year? Nobody will ever know for sure probably. Death Grips do not explain themselves. Somebody has put a theory together that makes some kind of sense. On the first track to the first Death Grips album it begins with a sample of an interview of Charles Manson. On the 4th track of this new album there’s a track called Linda’s in Custody. Linda Kasabian was a key witness against Charles Manson so therefore she must be the snitch. Also her birthday is 21st June and this year she turns 69. Year of the Snitch was supposed to be released on 22nd June but got leaked (most likely by the band themselves) on the 21st. Maybe the whole idea of the album title was just because of this Linda and a vague 69 joke. It would sound far fetched and silly if it wasn’t Death Grips. And the fact fans put this together shows the level of dedication required to attempt to figure these guys out. We all love a mystery and nobody is more mysterious than this band.
Many things have been said already on the internet about how Death Grips are perhaps the most original and important band of the decade. They make strange music that changes organically from album to album and have influenced people like Kanye West and David Bowie. The most random people have worked with them on albums. Their antics and business decisions make very little sense. They rarely do interviews and let their art speak for itself. A lot of artists claim to “not give a fuck”. Death Grips don’t claim this but it’s clear they really don’t care what anybody thinks of them. Record labels, radio stations and even their own fans can all do as they please. Fuck money and fame. It’s totally unimportant to them. Bands create products to sell at the end of the day. They are people earning a living and though they may be passionate about what they create it is still a job and they need to appeal to record executives and the masses to maximise profits. Death Grips go against the grain and give their music away for free. You cannot separate the band members from their art. Everything they do is Death Grips. Every strange photo they post on Instagram, every strange comment, every weird nonsensical business decision, every word and beat in every song is all part of the art that they’re bringing to the world without fear of rejection. It has to be admired. Every song of theirs you hear is something you’ve never heard before as they’ve looked to some strange thing in the world and created something with it in an interesting way. They are in a league of their own and yet keep quitting their own league and starting something else. And with the stage set it is theirs to tear down once again with a new piece of music.
Let’s break it down track by track :
- Death Grips is Online
The title of this album opener was first tweeted by them last year some time. And ever since whenever they post anything on social media fans tweet this phrase often with the most messed up image they have stored and Death Grips re-tweet tonnes of these tweets. Like hundreds of them in a sitting. This has gone on for over half a year and nobody knows why. We just tweet it. Then when they released the track list we realised they were actually going to name a song after this mad thing the fans do. After two years of waiting and never even knowing if a new album would come for most of that time it was great to finally press play on this when it leaked. So how’s it sound? Well, it was jarring at first and not for the usual reasons of the sounds of pure madness. It shockingly sounded quite normal for the first 10 or so seconds. So normal that I literally had to check I’d pressed play on the right album. It could easily be on the radio for all the “normies” (DG fans name for non-DG fans) to hear. For 10 seconds anyway. Then the normality ends and we’re back to normality. The nice music drops and in comes some bass and electronic sounds. From there the track switches between weird verses and a catchy as hell chorus. There’s so much going on and it’s an absolute banger. I’d say this is their second best ever album opener after Beware from Exmilitary.
This was one of the six (six!? Almost half the album the crazy bastards) singles released before the album leaked. It divided the fan base. Many didn’t get it. Death Grips songs are on a spectrum where one end is pure aggression and the other end is pure strange. This track definitely falls on the strange end of the spectrum. The song seems to be about death and decay and so hence the flies. It’s so mental. Very disturbing vibe. Weird lyrics. Verses that are half spoken and half screamed in a deranged manner. And towards the end there’s this transition that fills you with dread as the song seems to just disintegrate whilst we hear samples of themselves from previous songs. The transition goes nicely into the next track.
- Black Paint
So back to that strange/aggressive spectrum. This song is on the other end to Flies. It’s almost like a heavy metal song mixed with punk or something. MC Ride screams his ass off. Everything is on point here – the drums, the bass, the guitar, the vocals. I love the “BOOM, BOOM, BOOM” line. Super intense song and fans weren’t divided on this one. It’s just bloody dead good.
- Linda’s in Custody
Starts off calm. And gets wild pretty quick. This one has been stuck in my head today and is fixed there right now too. It’s the beat and the unusually calm delivery from Ride that gets you bopping. It has a line that goes “eat it like the devil’s cunt” and that shit gets in your head but you can’t exactly walk around saying that kind of thing ha. With many Death Grips tracks it’s hard to find words to describe because they’re just bat-shit-crazy.
- The Horn Section
An instrumental track. These always disappoint me. Not that they’re not good. But with a title like it has I was hoping a little for a DG track with an orchestra and Ride going mad over the top of it. It’s interesting and short and goes into the next proper track.
Another tough one to describe. Let’s see. I’ll throw words out and see what happens. Samples. DJ scratching. Carnivals. Rock anthem whilst on a rollercoaster. Insane lyrics. Who the fuck knows? It’s crazy dog. I saw someone describe this track perfectly by saying it’s like the clown Pennywise from the film It has written a song and it has turned out as mad as you’d expect.
As soon as Hahaha ends it runs into this and it starts with a growl. The day before the album leaked they released a video for this on YouTube and after a few hours YouTube took it down and gave DG a warning for content. The video is something else. It shows Zach Hill wiping his ass with toilet paper but on the toilet paper is various colours instead of the expected brown. It also shows a woman taking a piss on a hill. A leak you could say. Possible hint at the fact they were about to leak the album. But that’s not the most disturbing part of the video at all. There are clips in it of a director named Galen Pehrson after having a seisure being treated by medics. He also directs the video. The footage is real. I think anyway. The guy doesn’t know what’s going on. It’s eerie as hell and something that should be private really but DG love making people uncomfortable. And as for the song? It is a shitshow in a good way. Ridiculously fast paced lyrics about the most crazy things. Chaotic instrumentation. It’s like they had a few song ideas and just jammed it all together into this less than two minute piece. Madness.
The first single. Many DG fans weren’t feeling this at first but it has grown on them. I loved it and didn’t understand the “meh” feeling people gave it as it’s still one of my favourites on the album. I guess after waiting for the first single and expecting Death Grips to blow your fucking head off maybe this was underwhelming as it is actually really accessible. Maybe the most accessible Death Grips track ever. It makes you want to dance. It is really layered and incredibly infectious. Ride’s delivery is almost normal. It is difficult in some ways being a Grips fan when none of your mates like them (although it’s cool to be a part of their fan base online and it does seem like a cool secretive little cult and everybody not in it is just missing out). But if there’s one song I had to pick that a normal person might possibly be able to like quite quickly it would be this one. It’s just good music to vibe to. Definitely a highlight for me.
So after a near-normal song what do the dudes have for us next? Of course, it’s back to the twilight zone. There’s a spoken part at the start by Andrew Adamson. He’s the director of the Shrek films. Just what the hell is he doing on a Death Grips album? Who knows. It makes no sense and that totally makes sense. Add him to the list of random people to work with them. Like when Robert Pattinson played a guitar part on a track once or when Bjork gave them some vocals to use and they sampled her voice on every song on one side of a double album. Mad shit all the time. This was another single with a video. Like most Death Grips songs it’s not like any other Death Grips track you’ve ever heard before. It’s very atmospheric. It makes little sense in a genius kind of way. The lyrics are hilarious when you read them. It’s another great track.
- Little Richard
Ok seriously now, what the absolute fuck is this? What cocktail of drugs leads to tracks like this? I don’t really know what to say about it. It’s different. There’s a strange effect on Ride’s voice through the whole thing. And the track seems to be all about dicks. And pig’s dicks and stuff. Fuck knows. It’s wacky. You don’t know whether to scratch or bop your head. I need more time with this one.
- The Fear
I was looking forward to this the most based off the title. I was not expecting what I got though. How many times can a band pull the rug from under you? It’s like if a horror film had a baby with a jazz band. Jazz!? It’s like Death Grips don’t consider it enough to be a rap, punk, electro, rock, experimental, noise, industrial pop band. They have to be everything all at once. Jazz!? Seriously? Themes on this include a nice dose of suicide and murder. It’s one of the best goddamn tracks I’ve heard this year. But such are the greatness of these dudes that it may not make the top three on the album.
The second instrumental track on the album. Really cool beat that I wish lasted longer or had been made into a full song. You’d think a title like “Outro” would be the outro to the album right? Nah. Outro is the penultimate track here. One more to come.
Disappointed? Anything but. I said I didn’t know if The Fear makes the top three on the album but with this I think it might take the top spot for me. They really know how to open and end albums. With straight fire. This is so aggressive. The drumming is fast as hell. Ride simultaneously screams each word and repeats it in an echo with a normal voice. It’s so fast and so nuts and so cool. And that chorus? Man, it’s a shivers down the spine moment. He screams “whhhhhyyyy meeeee?” And at the same time it’s mixed in with a cymbal crash or something and a load of bass. It comes at you out of nowhere like FUCKING BOOM! I feel like if somebody heard this for the first time real loud whilst driving it could cause them to crash. It’s mad. For me it might be their second best ever album ending track after Hacker.
It’s really hard to review Death Grips. What the hell can you compare them to? How do you describe what is damn near impossible to understand? They create a state of confusion that you have to take some time to get used to but damn the music is so so good. It almost ruins the music of other artists. Like how to you go back to the music of normies after Year of the Snitch? Other bands get a good guitar riff, some nice bass, cool drums and sing a nice tune and that’s all good. But Death Grips get all of that stuff and then magnify it, chop it, mix it, add in glass explosions and car crashes and ambulances and somehow infuse the soundwaves you receive with cocaine, vodka and MDMA. It’s a real assault on the senses sonically and visually and it makes you feel totally alive and pumped up. And there’s all the little details in songs that you miss on the first few listens. Like a random catchy guitar part that you look forward to or a particular scream of pure emotion mid-verse. It’s like they’re The Anti-Beatles in a way. They have the creativity The Beatles have but instead of making universally loved and incredible melodies they make pure insanity that is so abrasive that most people will never get past the surface. They totally subvert expectations and smash genre boundaries. In case you couldn’t tell they have ascended to my favourite band on planet Earth. This new album far from disappoints. I was hoping for something different and yet also pure Death Grips and this was it. It ticks all the boxes. It’s hard to say where it ranks with the rest of their discography as they’re all so different. From one week to the next my favourite of theirs changes. This album will go into rotation with the rest of them on a Death Grips day and will hold its own. It’s not for everyone. And that’s fine. Death Grips is Online!