Death Grips – Year of the Snitch Album Review

“Death Grips’ most volume dynamic album delivers some of the bands’ most inconsistent material to date”

With a large portion of the albums’ 13 tracks released pre-album break, most listeners already had an idea of what they were getting into with Year of the Snitch. The album marks an interesting point in Death Grips’ history, since it is the first time Death Grips have actively participated in social media in an open and (mostly) non-cryptic manner. Months ago the band teased the public with the message “Death Grips Is Online” – the opener to the album.

Death Grips Is Online features multiple layers of frontman MC Ride’s vocals, with each chunk of his voice heavily altered with a variety of effects. The track runs with an incredibly catchy guitar line; it is also an introduction to a piece of instrumentation that completely saturates the album and is new to Death Grips’ arsenal – the record scratch. It is reminiscent of a production choice somebody like CX KiDTRONiK might make, who was an integral piece in the development of digital hardcore – a genre and sound in which Death Grips heavily takes inspiration.

Year of the Snitch then moves on to Flies. This track is marked by driving, rapid drum beats, and is otherwise rather calm by Death Grips standards. This track, as well as Black Paint, mark pretty unremarkable moments in the sonic history of the group. The drums in Black Paint are mixed in a drab, dull, and flat way, as is the guitar… this song had me wondering when the next one would come, which is impressive considering it clocks in at under four minutes. Linda’s in Custody features the trademark monotone, low delivery of MC Ride that he has employed in many tracks before, though rather than giving off the chilling effect that it might in other songs, instead it just makes the song rather boring. This is a shame, especially considering the synths were exceedingly evocative – I felt like I was in a jail set within a Playstation One game.

The leading portion of Year of the Snitch‘s track listing proves to be rather disappointing, and this is exemplified by The Horn Section. The Horn Section is a completely instrumental recording – one in which the band’s drummer Zach Hill delivers a scintillating performance. Unfortunately for the song, it is paired with some intensely uninteresting synths, and songwriting which goes absolutely nowhere. I found this to be one of the low points on the album.

Zach Hill drumming for Wavves – photo courtesy of DRUM! Magazine

However, this valley is followed by a peak found in the trio of HaHaHa, Shitshow, and Streaky. HaHaHa shares a similar problem with other tracks on the album in that it features bizarre mixing choices – MC Ride’s vocals are mixed to an inexplicably low level – but the songwriting is stellar. The contrast between the triumphant chorus and the descending synths in the rest of the song makes for an exhilarating experience. Shitshow was described by many fans upon release of the single as the “Hot Head” (from Bottomless Pit) of the album, and I find that descriptor to be incredibly precise. The clear sample declaring above the rest of the maddening process that “it’s a shitshow” is both accurate to and in stark contrast with the chaos contained in the song’s brief 1:45 runtime. Streaky’s production is so dynamic that I nearly forgot that it was on the same album as so many other jejune pieces. MC Ride’s drawn out and emphatic “don’t throw it on the ground” works in perfect unison with the rest of his concise delivery.

We are then briefly transported to a carnival ran by ghosts, followed immediately by an excerpt from Andrew Adamson, writer and director of the first two Shrek movies (yes, really). This marks the beginning of Dilemma. The mixing on this one is notably flat. Most of the sounds on the track lack any sort of pop. The noodling synth sounds straight from the bargain bin, which is exceptionally disappointing. Dilemma is perhaps the most clear example of the main issue I have with this album: in many places, the production comes up terribly short. There are other aspects of most songs that carry a bit of interest – Dilemma is no exception, as the intro completely hooked me – but the poor production choices drag it down into mediocrity.

Year of the Snitch is not short of interesting little pockets, the most shining example of which is the intro to Little Richard; various chops and reversals make the first chunk of the song head-scratching – and brilliant. The vocals within this song carry a goth-y, post-punk vibe which fits very well with Death Grips’ style and makes it a stand-out.

With The Fear, Death Grips flex their varied influences, drawing from both jazz and funk. The stereo split on the production has voices spilling into one ear while the rest of the song chugs on. Similarly, Outro contains interesting production choices. The meat of Outro is an extremely lo-fi recording, paired with pure wave screeches which haven’t been used very often by Death Grips but are a staple of Death Grips-adjacent acts and noise artists. This track is an example of production which I find unorthodox but actually quite pleasing; I would have appreciated a more drawn out version of this. It shares the same core flatness as some other tracks on the album, but with Outro it seems more intentionally driven.

The band closes out with Disappointed, which reflects my general thoughts on the album. MC Ride’s vocals sound hocketed, a technique in which a single melody is shared by multiple alternating voices. It’s like a play out of Dirty Projector’s book, and it comes off in a way that makes me want to listen to it again and again. The peaking that happens in the mix as MC Ride screams is heart-stopping, and is etched firmly into my mind – this is definitely my favorite track off of the album.

Year of the Snitch is an acutely bumpy road, quality-wise. It also features vastly different dynamics from track to track – something in which “always at 11” Death Grips rarely does. Unfortunately, Death Grips’ most volume dynamic album delivers some of the bands’ most inconsistent material to date.

high points: hahaha, streaky, disappointed, little richard
low points: flies, black paint, the horn section, dilemma

6/10

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