Stefan Burnett, Zach Hill and Andy Morin. These are the names of the sonic masterminds behind arguably the most boundary pushing and original work to have been released this side of 2010; Death Grips.
The Sacramento based band that formed in 2010 have a string of releases under their belt spanning the duration of this decade, from their debut release, Exmilitary, which infused elements of hardcore, punk and hip-hop, through to 2016’s Bottomless Pit, a frantic and experimental rollercoaster of an album. All the while Death Grips have clutched on to the signature aggression and angst in their music yet managing to throw a new spin on every album continuing to explore new musical landscapes, with no fear of how they’ll be received by fans and critics alike.
Death Grips are everything and more that I find exciting about an artist, their distinct and shocking image alongside Stefan’s primal, animalistic stage presence has been the talking point surrounding much of Death Grip’s notoriety. Not only this but the elusive and often cryptic promotional roll-out of their albums fits perfectly in the millennial age, the artists ability to be in immediate reach of their fans via social media platforms such as Twitter and YouTube is something that Death Grips have embraced.
With Death Grips’ sixth studio album, Year of the Snitch, Stefan and co. made sure to tease fans more than ever in the run up to its release on June 22nd. Instagram posts dating back to March hinted at collaborations with Tool’s Justin Chancellor, DJ Swamp as well as film director Andrew Adamson. Their usual abstract approach to album covers didn’t let up either with perhaps the most disturbing artwork to date, the online hype preceding Year of the Snitch set in motion what could be another ahead of the curve gem from Death Grips.
In short, it unquestionably is.
Year of the Snitch struck me as the bands most slick, groove based and hip-hop orientated record, the band have by no means played it safe, but have definitely found a niche in being able to warp the classic conventions of urban music. The two tracks that kick off the record, Death Grips Is Online and Flies, are some of the most left field and unsettling material that the group have dropped. Flies begins with an eerie synth line accompanied by MC Ride’s signature cryptic lyricism, but somehow manages to incorporate hip-hop familiarities in the form of Illmatic-esque turntable scratches. It’s a strange marriage but it just works and doesn’t disappoint throughout the thirty-seven-minute runtime.
Though Death Grips have embraced their hip-hop influences ever so slightly more on this record they still supply their fair share of mosh worthy hard hitting punk tracks. Black Paint takes the album up a notch around the ten minute mark and Stefan’s repeated mantra of “BLACK.. BLACK.. PAINT!” is a serious earworm. Shitshow is another standout moment for me, even amongst the sampling and synth layers it still sounds as if it was found on an early 80’s Bad Brains comp, a hopeful contender for Death Grips future live sets.
Though each and every Death Grips record is a melting pot of different genres and influence, it still continues to surprise me how thematically contrasting Year of the Snitch is. Never before have Death Grips punk and hip-hop influences clashed so strongly, following Shitshow is the albums third single, Streaky, my personal favourite. Streaky is the most concise, rhythmic and glossy the band have ever sounded. Dripping with attitude, Streaky embraces trap and breakbeat influences to deliver a real gritty hip-hop banger. Various other moments on the album such as the twenty second introduction of Linda’s In Custody borrow so heavily from rap predecessors that it could find itself sat comfortably on a nineties classic such as Mobb Deep’s ‘The Infamous’.
Year of the Snitch may not have the hook factor and memorable moments of Death Grips’ classic; The Money Store, but what it does offer is a level of experimentation taken to new heights. Tracks such as Dilemma, The Fear and The Horn Section have a left field nature, an exploration of different territory for the band. I almost find myself likening The Horn Section and Hahaha to the sounds of Drum and Bass. Ultimately Year of the Snitch is a slower burn than past releases, but seasoned Death Grips veterans will no doubt be pleased with what is on offer, the usual frantic and wild energy mixed with the innovation and originality Death Grips are loved for. There is no doubt in my mind that MC Ride is definitely staying noided.
– Words by Gavin Owen
You can catch Death Grips on tour in the UK this August/September at the dates below:
- O2 Academy Brixton, London, UK. Thursday 30th August 2018.
- Barrowland Ballroom, Glasgow, UK. Friday 31st August 2018.
- Albert Hall, Manchester, UK. Saturday 1st September 2018.