Undefined Collective

Album Review

Death Grips

Year of the Snitch


William Espinoza

September 19, 2018

Death Grips have always marched, or perhaps thrashed, to the beat of their own drum. Release a picture of your album’s tracklist through a typical instagram post? Not quite. Sending your fans a cryptic iPhone screen recording where incoming text messages slowly relay the titles of each track? Now that’s more like it. With moves like this, and an equally adventurous sonic palette, the Sacramento trio have cemented themselves as one of music’s most exciting acts. Unfortunately, where their video successfully instills a sense of exciting discomfort immersed in a sea of convolution, moments of their subsequent release get too lost in the latter and bring down an otherwise stellar effort.

The songs are constantly shifting back and forth, in some cases pushing the songs forward with vital momentum, and in others derailing it entirely. In the opener they pull from a myriad of influences, moving from soaring shoegaze to an eclectic techno beat and back again. They navigate this sequence for the better part of 3 minutes, but with each pass, it becomes more than the last. There’s something to be said for avoiding solid ground, but even they don’t feel completely at home on this track.
“Black Paint” continues to explore this idea of contortion but with much more success. The initial tension is built up from the compounding addition of drum layers and then explodes into the first verse. The recurring shouting of “Black, black paint” in between bars ties it all together and creates a mounting urgency throughout the song, and is a worthy continuation of the desire for darkness previously explored on The Rolling Stones’ acclaimed “Paint It, Black.” Here, Ride calls out for a world doused in black paint, completely purged of any and all individuality. No longer an identifiable fixture, he fantasizes about settling into his own mind without feeling the watchful gaze of those around him. Hiding this small existential crisis behind the mask of its shouted delivery and uncompromising accompaniment makes the pain even more visceral, and feels oddly reminiscent of The Downward Spiral. Everything on this track, from the grimy metal riffs to Hill’s absolutely mental drumming, comes together in glorious harmony.
Fortunately the next song provides no dips in form as  “Linda’s in Custody” continues down the rabbit hole “Black Paint” opened. The song begins with a couple cryptic bars of “we purge herds of stunted cells, we nurse the worm until it swells.” The transition from the intro to the first verse seems someone coming out of hypnosis and immediately snapping back to reality. Ride greets us with his familiar distorted howls, and the ascending keyboard lick livens things up with some brooding paranoia. The song’s arrangement constantly changes but the eerie keys continue to drive the unhinged atmosphere. It’s short and sweet, and the continuous looping of it brings out the manic nature in everything around it. Where the cymbal bashing halfway through the song would have been just another added layer, is now instead the drumming equivalent of total psychosis. Even amongst its incessant gloom-and-doom, the track demonstrates how incredibly strong this tape is when everything is working in concert.
Moving forward, it’s not all satanic curses and fetishizations of suicide. They may even get a laugh out of you at some parts. The group kicks off “Dilemma” with the sounds of a carnival and segue into a fuzzy interview that opens up the crossroads they face as musicians. This immediately transitions into a spectacular, ear-grabbing keyboard refrain which is one of the album’s strongest and most accessible moments. This was going to be the spot where everything starts to make sense; this is where it truly begins. But instead of continuing to propel forward into the verses, they completely derail all momentum with this jazzy, techno switch up that crashes into a mundane guitar driven chorus. Separated from that otherworldly refrain, these sections are not much to complain about, but can hardly suffice as a follow up. In spite of any qualms with the production choices, it’s still a clever cast and bait maneuver on their part. As the interview shared, they stand at a crossroads, needing to decide whether to pursue making the music they want or to bend to the demands of others. What better way to drive home their point than to dangle exactly what the audience thinks they want to hear right in front of them only to yank it away seconds later. It makes the whole bit somewhat worth it, and as far as looks into the camera go, this is the best the album has to offer.

But where, “Dilemma” slyly pulled the rug out from under you, “Disappointed” hits you with a baseball bat. It could almost sound good, if it didn’t feel like a 5 year old flicking you off.

“Shitshow” could not be more aptly named with the pulsating drums and resounding yell of “biatch” at the end of each bar. It’s a measured, but aggressive start, and then without warning, Ride goes absolutely ballistic and gives his most rapid fire delivery of the whole tape. In spite of the eccentric drum patterns and haphazard guitar melodies in the background, it actually mixes together quite nicely. Of course leaving it at that would be way too easy. If the title and mess of sounds weren’t indicative enough, the woman stating “it’s a shitshow” after every line certainly gives it away. The inclusion of such a needless and painful earworm reduced what could have been one of the stronger tracks to a frustrating eyebrow raise of “did you see what I did there?”
One of the more enjoyable digs is the short instrumental “The Horn Section” which, you guessed it, has no horns. This is hardly a complaint, as it features some near impossible drumming and the keys come out in this syncopated pattern that just make them spill out right in front of you. It’s one of the shorter tracks on the album, but the brevity is much appreciated as they give you just enough to love it, without giving you so much that it becomes a nuisance. On the flipside, there’s the mother of all fourth wall breaks, “Disappointed.” After the false outro, Death Grips unabashedly share how they could care less about appealing to the lowest common denominator of critics or even their own fanbase. But where, “Dilemma” slyly pulled the rug out from under you, “Disappointed” hits you with a baseball bat. It could almost sound good, if it didn’t feel like a 5 year old flicking you off. From a band not known for making bad decisions, closing the record on such a sour note was undoubtedly a terrible choice.
The humor may not always land, but when it sticks, it does an exceptional job of rounding out the record. Easily the best track on the record, “The Fear” has a genuinely hilarious intro featuring a random guy saying “I don’t know dude, I just — I just drink blood, dude.” The ironic presentation of an individual’s self acceptance despite his less desirable qualities serves as a grounding counter to the sentiments shared in the song. Instead of being at peace, Ride is both insatiable and inconsolable. He belts out an internal conversation of “You wanna kill somebody (I’m afraid to be alone with you)” highlighting the same cognitive dissonance from “Black Paint” and “Linda’s in Custody.” He returns to the same fascination with jumping and his urges peak at the end where “when the rail holds you, flight like stairs grows you.” At this point he has let go of all inhibitions and only the physical barrier in front of him prevents him from taking those last steps. The descending piano may not leave much interpretation for a happy resolution, but the track stands as the ideal representation of all the ideas formulated throughout the album.

The descending piano may not leave much interpretation for a happy resolution, but “The Fear” stands as the ideal representation of all the ideas formulated throughout the album.

As a whole the record ends up being this perplexing amalgamation of satanic insanity and absurdist humor mixed over hints of a crumbling depression. It’s a premise that at the very least promises intrigue. As always, they provide no easy ways out and consistently plop their listeners into an onslaught of sounds. At its worst it indulges a bit too much and ends up getting lost amongst its own cacophony. But at its most profound, Year of the Snitch deftly marries absurdity with reality, and in doing so, makes all the noise make sense.

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