Album Review: Death Grips' Year of the Snitch

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Death Grips, an experimental hip-hop band, remain as unpredictable as ever

The group ‘Death Grips’ are not for the faint of heart - their eclectic style of industrial rock, experimental hip hop and abstract rap will put off even the most pluralistic of music listeners. Indeed Anthony Fantano, popular online music critic described their sound as “one of the most polarising things in modern music today”. Nonetheless, the group has attracted something of a cult following, rising in prominence since their re-emergence in 2015 to a huge name in the underground/experimental hip-hop scene.

While Death Grips is generally best described as experimental hip-hop, their sound is absolutely in its own genre, incorporating elements of hip hop, industrial rock, experimental rock, grunge, glitch-hop, electro-punk and even gabber. Death Grips draws from many many genres, with the common theme being their heavy, distorted metal sounds.

And in the beginning of summer of this year, the group arguably topped their previous work with their release of Year of the Snitch, an album that incorporates all the oddity and thrashing that would make your gran cry if she heard you listening to it.

The album has become one of Death Grip’s best selling albums, with generally positive reviews; 4.5/5 from AllMusic, ⅘ from MusicOMH, 7.3/10 from Pitchfork and a perfect 10/10 by online music critic Anthony Fantano.

For a brief sampling of the album, I’d definitely recommend the group’s video for ‘Death Grips is Online’, the opening song from the album. And for those interested in delving into the world of rock-influenced hip hop, their entire album is helpfully present online, courtesy of the group themselves.

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It’s difficult to exactly pinpoint why Year of the Snitch is so oddly enticing. The lyrics are scattered, often making little sense and jumping in presentational style; the music heavily incorporates industrial sampling and heavily distorted melodies. And while I’ve been a big fan of hip hop for years now, industrial rock is entirely foreign to me. As a result, I expected myself to hate the album and group, and I’ll admit that initially, I had that dad-like response of not quite understanding it.

And yet, when I’ve found Year of the Snitch creeping its way onto my Spotify playlists, I don’t find myself skipping it. Instead, I find myself avidly listening to, and enjoying, the album. Even more worryingly, I even find myself slightly head-banging to several of the songs… admittedly not the response I thought I’ve give when I first listened to the album.

Perhaps it is the oddity that makes Year of the Snitch so compelling to re-listen to. The constant sudden changes in the style, tempo and lyrics - both between and often within songs - means that even after regular listening, the music still feels fresh and original.

The album only runs for a short time of 37 minutes, which likely contributes to the fast-paced style of the album. While songs such as ‘Streaky’ take a more satirical, almost cooky approach, others such as ‘Linda’s In Custody’ pick up the speed, introducing the listener to a wave of altered sound, multiple layers of melody with electronic overtones, and dark - but nonetheless still satirical - vocals.

The album is also just as unpredictable as Death Grip’s earlier releases. Their re-sampling of some of their earlier releases, as well as sudden beat changes and random transitional periods. Over all of this is overlaid a beautifully trippy general theme which ties the otherwise unrelated songs together into an album that manages to retain many different sounds and styles, while not compromising the sound of the album as a collective.

So, why is Death Grips’ Year of the Snitch so relistenable? Why is it that I - someone who has never been interested in the sounds of metal and industrial rock - am so enticed by the album? I do confidently assert that it is this remarkable ability to combine so many eclectic sounds, mash them together, and yet produce an album that works wonderfully well, and delivers a sound almost entirely unheard outside of the underground genres.

Will you like it? Probably not. It’s very much still the sort of music that will make most people wince and question where you went wrong. But for those interested in hearing some excellently produced, utterly unpredictable and riveting music, Death Grips’ Year of the Snitch is more than worth a listen… and you never know, maybe you’ll find yourself enjoying it!

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