Experimental hip-hop act Death Grips returns with a more straightforward and direct offering in the rock-infused Year of the Snitch.
Year of the Snitch
Third World / Harvest
22 June 2018
Death Grips is one of the acts that have defined the current decade. Founded in Sacramento in 2010, the trio featuring Zach Hill, Andy Morin, and Stefan Burnett aka MC Ride, has produced a series of excellent works that have expanded the vision of experimental hip-hop and experimental music in general. By adapting the harsher elements of industrial music, hardcore, punk, and synth-punk aesthetics, Death Grips has produced one of the most impressive trilogies of releases, which includes The Money Store, No Love Deep Web and Government Plates.
Taking the strange decision of ending the band in 2014, Death Grips soon reformed and produced a couple more albums in The Powers That B and Bottomless Pit. Especially in The Power That B, Death Grips dove deeper in the experimental world, structuring the album around Zach Hill's drumming and vocal samples from the great Bjork (first half of the record). Bottomless Pit , on the other hand, saw them returning back to their original form, especially in The Money Store, in terms of the album's structure and explosive delivery. Now, they take things a step further with Year of the Snitch.
The new album does feel like a return to the early days of Death Grips, with the trademark genre-bending attitude that the band displays. The various forms of electronic music, power electronics, hip-hop, and hardcore are still present and act as the foundations of the record. The hip-hop element remains the focal point, and it is even explored in a more straightforward way than we have come to expect from Death Grips. "Streaky" is an example of this attitude, featuring a more refreshing tone with a very bouncy progression. Similarly, the electronic experimentations are present, and are responsible for some of the more delicate moments of this album, in the likes of "Little Richard" which arrives with a captivating aura as the processed vocals add a different dimension to this experience.
But, there's also a more pronounced turn towards rock music in its various forms. An obvious example of this approach is the opening track, "Death Grips Is Online" as it arrives with a hazy shoegaze-like tone. The sound appears to encapsulate all elements around it, and it provides this distorted warmth that only shoegaze can awaken. It is something that contradicts the overall colder and more brutal sound of Death Grips, but the band manages to merge the two into a solid result. And then there is the even more pronounced punk rock aesthetic that comes into play. The relentless "Black Paint" is one of the tracks displaying that attitude, reaching an anthemic level with some very catchy guitar riffs. It really feels like one of these songs that will kill in live performances. Similar is the case with "Hahaha", which features a very rock heavy style that brings an entertaining and energizing tone to the track.
Of course, within these structures more strange ideas evolve, and it's not as if Death Grips have transformed into a straight-out rock band. The electronic experimentations are still here, while slight drops of jazz elements see them take some more adventurous steps in that direction. Similarly, this trademark sickening tone is still present just beneath the surface, be it in the repetitive, dystopian mantras of "Flies", the circus-like intro to "Linda's in Custody" or the playful attitude in "The Horn Section" and "The Fear".
Overall, Year of the Snitch feels like a personal experiment for Death Grips, but tilting towards a more mainstream sound. Not to say that the band has compromised its experimental attitude, but there is a definite leaning towards a more straightforward form, which in this case arrives with the heavier implementation of rock music motifs. And that is also the main element that makes the album the band's most entertaining and fun release yet, albeit not its best.