Review Summary: While not one of their most blistering achievements, its a welcome addition to their now long discography.
In my personal opinion and as controversial as it is, I think Death Grips are the most interesting and essential group to emerge out of this decade. You can try deny Death Grips as not being influential towards most of this decades output of music, however Ride and Zach Hill have pictures next to Beyonce. It’s hard to under-estimate just how seriously awesome it is to see a group who started and continues to make music others just aren’t having such a profound place in the music and artists of this decade of music. Having followed them through The Money Store and witnessed addition after addition to their discography, its also been a very unpredictable journey which is personally what I’d argue makes following Death Grips as it all unfolds - such a treat. Now its 2018, Death Grips have broken their long habit of releasing an album per year and we’ve got their 8th studio release - Year of the Snitch.
Teasers to the record sounded more lo-fi then ever, especially after arguably their most hi-fi produced and stellar album Bottomless Pit from 2016. The track Flies (a personal favourite) compares insect-esque percussion against a wubbing synth and a touch of 2017’s EP Steroids (Crouching Tiger Hidden Gabber Megamix) with its Tokyo techno influences. Track Black Paint brought back the rock influences of Jenny Death only that it’s mixed as if it were performed inside a concrete bunker with reverberation and all. As straight as I’m making these songs sound right now, these tracks most definitely are as experimental as Death Grips have always been with collage production and noisy treatments.
However, it was tracks like Streaky that had me apprehensive.
Hahaha also, as cool the bulk of the track is, had the flaw of just a really meh chorus with the three guitar chords and one-take ‘Hahaha bitch.’ To be honest, I was personally a little worried that Death Grips might’ve been in the cycle of giving us one of their lesser stellar crafted albums like that of Government Plates or (controversy) No Love Deep Web, but they sure tried.
Year of the Snitch runs consciously of its track listing for most of its 37 minute runtime with tracks kicking in instantly after the last, basically making each second of a new track either like switching channels or like receiving a physical assault to the face. For the majority of the record, this allows a lot of the weaker tracks to feel more potent then they are in the scheme of the record. What this can’t save however is the rushed ending of this record or the few questionable moments that were confusing upon first listen and now just come off as results that fall short of whatever they were trying to pull-off.
While this may seem irrelevant at this point in the review, it does make perfect sense to me why Death Grips opened physical pre-orders most specifically for cassette tape for Year of the Snitch. Death Grips actually lose their noisy digital edge for a more murky, grainy lo-fi quality production that would only seem fitting for the medium. The drums on the blaring rave of opener Death Grips is Online aren’t as sharp as previous efforts and honestly gives a much warmer result to a number of the tracks here. However, I don’t think it benefits all the tracks. Linda’s In Custody is one of the strangest lo-fi endevours mainly for the fact it sounds like it’d hit harder with more shrill frequencies and heavier bass, only that the production of the record chops the tops and bottoms off and leaves the track sounding under-whelmingly visceral despite what is musically (if you can even use that to describe Death Grips) going on. That, and following track The Horn Section - a drum solo paired against zippy hairy synths seems to fit much better with the stylistic production of the record with much of the same instrumentation and sounds of Linda’s In Custody.
Dilemma, which features an epic build up that reminds of some 70’s progressive rock you’d hear out of Yes - ultimately settles into really muffled bustling synths and a common thread of buried vocals from Ride that are way less visceral then to be expected. It’s actually the more traditional instrumentation moments featuring guitars and 70’s synth work that this track is at its best. One track I however really just don’t get is Little Richard with the one note vocoder vocals and anthemic glitchy blip synths, that and it signals the specific point when the album just hand-brake stops trying to be cohesive and compromises itself. We get a jarring switch to The Fear, one of the most creative songs on the record with this descending piano riff and some spazy Zach Hill licks that eventually breaks into this 4/4 triplet beat fit with jazzy horns and makes me think Death Grips with this track and possibly others actually arranged some of these songs as opposed to their usual sampled and edited approach of stringing up their instrumentals, and to beautiful results.
Then we get Outro with a muffled 60’s era performance with this desert rock guitar riff that lasts about a minute and goes no where before fading out for the real closer Disappointed which features the most insane Ride vocals of the entire record with the ‘WHHYYYY ME!’ re-phrane, Zach Hill doing these skippy double kick patterns before just blast beating his way to the ‘chorus.’ Only catch, it ends and its like I just got my potato chips snatched away from me before I finished eating.
Now I’ll be honest, all the features we were teased of special guests don’t really add up to the whole record or at least isn’t a The Powers That B Disc 1 collaboration where Bjork was smothered on the entire record. The closest re-occuring feature comes in the form of vynil DJ scratchings provided by DJ Swamp who I don’t recall being as shared as Andrew Adamson, Justin Chancellor or Lucas Abela who I can’t actually even guess in what songs his contributions are featured. Ultimately though, it sounds like a Death Grips record made by Death Grips and the features seem much more of an after thought unless Justin Chancellor had a great contribution to the results of say Black Paint.
In the end, what more can I really say. Year of the Snitch, while not one of their most blistering achievements, is a welcome addition to Death Grips’ fairly long discography and only sees Death Grips moving further away from their hip-hop roots and embracing more psychedelic and traditional influences down to the production style to the craft of these tracks. If you’re a fan, its a wonder why you’re even reading this because you assumably already like it. As for naysayers, I think this record might surprise you if you’re a bit of a 70’s rock purist, otherwise its just another solid enough release from Death Grips for us to put on rotation along with the rest of their more than generous discography of releases we’ve been more than treated to.
Oh, and good luck deciphering the lyrics.