It's important to note that Death Grips is far from a band everyone is going to love. In fact, most people don't enjoy the music of Death Grips, at least upon first listen. But enjoyment aside, few people find Death Grips uninteresting. Frontman MC Ride aka Stefan Burnett exudes such an intensity, most people immediately react to his musical and/or stage presence with some combination of fear, intrigue, and confusion.
If you're unfamiliar with Death Grips, the generally agreed upon best song for an introduction to the band is the classic, the definitive, "Guillotine." It can be easily and even legally found on YouTube, accompanied by an incredibly simple, yet deeply unsettling music video, which has been viewed just over 7 million times.
Every Death Grips album varies significantly from one to the other, yet remains unmistakeably Death Grips. But variance aside, there's one constant, threading every Death Grips album together, as a body of work, rather than merely a collection of albums, and that's Death Grips' commitment to going hard. Death Grips may be unpredictable, but you can always count on Death Grips to go harder, louder, and more intense, than literally any other band in history. For music fans looking for the loudest band in the world, this is it.
Intensity is Death Grips' signature. Every album, every show, every time.
With Year of the Snitch, released on June 22, Death Grips still have yet to break that tradition. In fact, they go uncomfortably above and beyond previous releases.
From the opening track "Death Grips Is Online," it becomes clear we've come across a record no more accessible than No Love Deep Web or Jenny Death, as Ride belts an opening line of "I'm doing hand stands on her Trans Am." Shades of The Money Store are present in Ride's undertone delivery lacing the edges of the song, but instrumentally, Death Grips is all over the place. DJ scratches, synth, distorted noise, some chainsaw-esque overlain sample.
What a start.
Having heard "Flies" weeks ago, it's difficult to feel much different about it at first, which is mostly ambivalent, with mild positive feelings toward very specific moments.
It just felt disjointed, initially, and of course, that's probably the point. But the point didn't feel great to listen to, originally. Well, that was until it was sandwiched between track one and three on the album, then it becomes apparent that "Flies" actually does have a place on this album. As a standalone track, it doesn't fare well, but in context, it's the Lebowski rug of the first three tracks and really ties this section of the album together.
Closing this section is "Black Paint," which is just a monster of a song. Absolutely one of the best Death Grips songs in history and would be amazing to see live. Psychedelic guitars, heavy bass, Ride at the top of his game. So beautiful. But looking closer, Ride's lyrics are telling of the darkness and destruction so present on Year of the Snitch.
Drop the curtains soaked in shadow. More shade. Black, black paint.These are not just lyrics to a song, these are someone's soul speaking, and what it has to say is beautiful, but not pretty.
Drip, freak freak seek seek, so cold today. Black, black paint.
Making sounds that don't deserve us. Like blou. Black, black paint.
Those are my Satanic urges. Right now. Right, right now...
I require privacy. I'm always thinking finally. Dreaming, feigning. Changing, cheating.
"Linda's in Custody" seems to mark another section of Year of The Snitch, which includes "Horns Section" and "Ha Ha Ha." This is a significant deviation from the Death Grips of 2012, which in 2018 should be expected, but it's also a significant deviation from the Death Grips of 2017. Subdued sounds, sparse lyrics, strange samples, bent notes. Not their heaviest work but perhaps some of their darkest. It's moody, atmospheric, and one might be tempted to call it subtle. This is the moment of the album where Death Grips' weirdness stops being endearing and starts becoming a bit uncomfortable.
By the time "S**tshow" comes on, we're not expecting this combination of Black Flag and Skinny Puppy, but wow. "S**tshow" is clearly a highlight on Year of The Snitch and precedes the album's first single, "Streaky." Streaky is a fairly conventional affair, almost a genre hip-hop song, aside from the arpeggio and sporadic glitches. "Streaky" could play in a standard nightclub and draw few strange looks. Death Grips songs like this are rare.
Why are they so all over the place on this album?
"Dilemma" is, hands down, perhaps Death Grips' most innovative track yet, and conjures up images of what it might be like to experience a psychedelic acid trip during mass at the Church of Satan, and "The Fear" follows it as absolutely no source of comfort in the absolute insanity that is Year of the Snitch. Stefan is screaming his head off across more strangely bent notes and this musical experimentation of an album has fully taken form as something shapeless, yet palpable.
"Outro," which is not even the last track, but the second to last track, is something of a Kid A experience in the context of being similar to "Treefingers." Just inexplicable soundscapes, designed to give the listener a reflective moment.
And then there's "Disappointed" which draws questions about whether or not the guys in Death Grips need someone to talk to. Ride screams, probably harder than he's been recorded screaming before, which is extremely hard, by the way.
WHY ME!This song is absolute lunacy.
Nut job, no job
F**k jobs, not hired.
By the end of Year of the Snitch, the lister feels assaulted, like they've been through some kind of archaic battle, over an issue they don't understand, and in a place they've never been. It's a visceral experience, this album, but a profound one, to be sure.
Truthfully, Death Grips have gone off the deep end with Year of the Snitch. Over time, it's becoming clear that their releases only get more and more chaotic. It's difficult to articulate feelings on this record because while the music is absolutely, hands down, innovative, interesting, skilled, capable, and just fantastic, it's also a bit scary. But not in a horror movie kind of way, or even a philosophical kind of way.
Cormac McCarthy's The Road is scary. Depressing, violent, nihilistic, but clearly written by a person in control.
This is scary more in a GG Allin kind of way like we're listening to people who are genuinely off their rockers. Which isn't to say that's true, but the music presented here is clearly unprecedented, so one has to wonder.
It used to feel like Death Grips only got crazier as time went on because they were so innovative and brilliant. Now it's beginning to feel like it would be comforting if they could make a record that was just average. Not because their music is becoming more and more challenging, challenging is good. Rather, it's because for the first time it seems palpable that the increasingly chaotic direction of Death Grips is indicative, maybe, less of evolving creativity, and more of progressive instability.
There's something destructive in the details of this album, but not destructive toward societal norms, or musical instruments, or even politics, and other such classic objects of rock and roll's ire. No, this feels more like an inward destruction, self-destruction.
Perhaps that's the point of the record, and it's just a theme, conveyed so well that the message is delivered with perfect clarity. That's definitely a possibility and hopefully the correct answer. It should be absolutely pointed out that no one knows what is going on behind the scenes of Death Grips, but Death Grips. This is only one person's album review. But that album is considerably chaotic and painfully dark.
It's troubling to wonder if this is something a little more real than just thematic art. Year of the Snitch is an indisputably brilliant record, and it is absolutely Death Grips, through and through, but for the first time ever, a Death Grips album doesn't just feel like an album.
It feels more like the self-portrait people look back on later and say "it's so obvious to me now. How did I not know?"
Year of the Snitch is unscored.