It may seem weird to start a review for the new Death Grips album in this way, but stick with me on this: I thought Radiohead’s latest album from 2016, A Moon Shaped Pool, was one of the most disappointing albums of that year. I was so excited to hear it at first; here was a band that I had grew up loving, had helped shape my musical taste, and had probably the best track record of our time in terms of releasing critically successful records that dared to sound different every time. The problem with A Moon Shaped Pool being, when you release so many grand artistic statements in a row, you risk painting yourself into a corner. So, when you perform to anything less than the absolute perfection fans have come to expect (or a complete artistic U-turn in the case of The King Of Limbs), the record will fall completely flat as a result. Not the fault of the record itself by any means, just its contextual underpinning dragging it down.
Maybe (probably) that’s me being utterly cynical and expecting too much, but that experience was all I could think about when listening to Year Of The Snitch. It’s probably telling that during the lead up to the record, snippets of news surfacing that they’re working with the bassist of Tool and the director of Shrek were met with an exhale and shrug. This is the band that have completed a double album, and released two more albums since they apparently broke up. You could take the viewpoint that you shouldn’t expect anything of Death Grips, they’ve always done everything on their own terms and don’t look like doing it any other way any time soon. However, as aforementioned, eventually people are just going to stop giving a shit if all you do is piss them about constantly.
Which, all rants aside, brings us to the actual album itself. Year Of The Snitch marks the longest gestation period between studio albums since the band surfaced in 2010, and in terms of sound seems to be a natural progression from their previous effort, 2016’s Bottomless Pit. The line between Death Grips and drummer Zac Hill’s side project The ILY’s continues to become increasingly blurred, with a continued emphasis on live band production, instead of the heavily DAW-sequencing and sample-based records such as 2013’s Government Plates. However the record remains suitably skittish – the usual production bells and whistles are all here: sudden sample stops, jittering percussion and shifting tempos all over the shop.
Much of the front end of the LP sounds, unfortunately, rather disinterested in itself. Despite opener ‘Death Grips Is Online’ sounding like a Deftones song leaking out of a broken modem, I could only recall how cutting edge their debut The Money Store sounds even 6 years on. ‘Black Paint’ comes across as Death Grips merely doing an impression of themselves, while MC Ride has never sounded as anonymous as he does on ‘Linda’s In Custody’, as if his much-rapped-about depression seems to have gotten the better of him, left only to go through the motions.
Thankfully, the second half of the record picks up insurmountably. ‘Dilemma’ is nightmare inducing, which funnily enough makes me think of Brazilian jazz legend Hermeto Pascoal making his way through the uncanny valley. ‘The Fear’ is far-and-away the best track on the entire release, with Zac Hill in full Hella throwback, his limbs writhing around the kit like a tape loop being stretched through the tightest setting on a pasta machine. The chromatic descending piano riff, combined with the paranoid undulating bass line is unlike anything I can cite on a previous Death Grips release, and would be a fantastic direction to explore on future releases.
So in reality, what we are left with is a Death Grips album wherein the idea of everything is much more interesting than the final product itself – less than the sum of its parts. It’s certainly not a bad release per se, they just kind of sound a bit bored. While this is another step in the natural progression of the band, it’ll be interesting to see in the next few years if people start to lose interest in them. It’s not as if they have anything else to prove this decade – they clearly don’t – but as with a band like Radiohead, you paint yourself into a corner if people get used to you delivering one behemothic artistic statement after another.
YEAR OF THE SNITCH BY DEATH GRIPS IS OUT NOW VIA THIRD WORLDS/HARVEST.