Death Grips is an underground, experimental hip-hop trio based in Sacramento, California. They rose to popularity in 2011 with the release of their self-titled and Exmilitary EP’s. These two projects circulated quickly through internet communities and eventually landed them a deal with Epic Records, and there, they released their first two full length LP’s, The Money Store and No Love Deep Web.
The latter record’s, now infamous, cover featured a photo an erect penis, on which the title of the album was written. This was one of the first of many indicators that Death Grips refused to play by the rules and modern conventions of the music industry.
Musically, the trio tends to reinvent themselves from album to album, while keeping hold of their violent, punk-inspired style. MC Ride has consistently served as a forceful frontman, while Zach Hill’s drumming and Andy Morin’s production shift all around him. This album is no different. Year of the Snitch aims to incorporate a multitude of brand new elements and genres into an already stacked deck, and succeeds for the most part.
As per usual, the latest Death Grips album is less like a movie, and more like a jigsaw puzzle. Slowly unpacking this project is a large part of what makes Death Grips’ music so enjoyable. The heavily layered sound leaves much to be found.
“Death Grips is Online” is a raucous, EDM jam which combine with the unique, high speed drumming to create a genuine sense of panic and confusion. This trend is repeated, with a few dreamy choir samples and oddly uplifting guitar on “Hahaha.”
Tracks like “Flies” and “Streaky,” on the other hand, manage to recreate this EDM-inspired sound with slower tempos and far less maximalist textures. These seem to be far more accessible to outsiders than much of Death Grips’ body of work, simply by virtue of their calmness and more mainstream influences.
This mass appeal is almost Immediately squandered, however, by tracks like “Black Paint,” and “The Fear.” Here, the groups captures more of their roots, however shifty those may be, than anywhere else on the project. The vocals on “Black Paint,” in particular, harken back to the No Love; Deep Web days of a Death Grips, and its a fun sound to hear again.
The album also transitions well from song to song, featuring bazar futuristic instrumentals from Morin, drummed over wonderfully by Zach Hill. “The Horn Section,” is one noticeable transition that features magnificent drum work.
Year of the Snitch is at its best, however, on tracks like “Shitshow,” and “Disappointed.” On these songs, the punk and noise rock elements which are so new and unique to this album are out in full force, and to wonderful effect.
This is an album that takes a few listens and quite a bit of concentration. Death Grips have never been known for dulling their creativities to cater to their growing audience and this is yet another example.
There are a few clear faults, not the least of these being the complete lack of direction. There are a few clear intentions, mainly that they would like to include a few of the new styles they’ve picked up, but the project as a whole tends to sprint chaotically from idea to idea. This also has repercussions on the pacing which often feels far too fast and as if the new sounds are being presented for far too short a time to showcase them.
In many ways, though, its this chaos which drives the project. The group almost feel like gatekeepers, holding back insanity, and wielding it masterfully.
After many confused listens, I’ve chosen to settle on an absurdist interpretation of this record. Death Grips seem to be grabbing at very popular styles such as hard rock on “Shitshow,” or pop rap on “Streaky,” (hence the Lil’ Wayne-esque lighter noises) but running them through the very powerful absurdity filter.
Having found what I could, however, I see this album as an interesting step that ultimately lacked direction. Its enjoyable enough throughout the vast majority, especially thanks to Hill’s amazing drumming skills, but Ride is far less prominent piece here, and Morin’s futuristic production tends to be the only predictable bit, save his sampling, which is awesome!. Regardless, Death Grips is one of the most important and creative hip-hop acts of all time, and they deserve all the respect they get and more.
This album can be intensely off-putting and daunting at first, but seeing it within the confines of conceptualized absurdity does seem to give a listener even the tiniest foothold into the bands intentions and accomplishments.