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Arts in Review

Death Grips goes pop, sort of

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California’s noisiest trio has decided to dip their toes into the realm of (comparable) pop. Compared to a release as recent as 2016’s Bottomless Pit, Death Grips’ most recent record, Year Of The Snitch, tones down a lot of the disorienting shifts in pace and dissonant melodies found in their earlier records.

It’s still Death Grips, though.

For example, on the album opener, “Death Grips is Online,” vocalist MC Ride trades in his usual belligerent screaming for a more subdued monotone delivery, which — apart from the chorus — he adopts throughout the track. There’s also a consistent (bell? Guitar? Keyboard?) sample that gives the track two things that have famously irked new listeners in the past: a melody (of sorts) and structure.

One of the most salient examples of what I’d hesitate to call conventional electronic/hip-hop blends is “Dilemma.” Although the track does make use of a dizzying amount of samples throughout, the majority of them complement each other, as opposed to working against the others’ grain. The record’s mixing also makes it a lot easier on the listener to discern just what exactly Ride is saying on each track (where before one had to concentrate almost individually on tracks to make out the screamed verses). “Black Paint” also makes use of more defined vignettes that give listeners a foothold in the listening experience, and if anything, the track could be considered more rock than it is rap. In this sense, Year of the Snitch proves more accessible than its predecessors.

On the other hand, tracks like “Hahaha” and “The Fear” work in direct opposition to that argument. Although the latter is still not as aggressive as, say, Bottomless Pit’s “Giving Bad People Good Ideas” or The Powers That B’s “I Break Mirrors With My Face In The United States,” it still does recall the trio’s earlier, more grating origins.

Mixing on the record makes the still-hectic percussion more palatable to listeners, especially when paired together with more straightforward synth work than previously explored, and most samples, such as in “Linda’s in Custody,” are reserved for vocal samples employed throughout tracks, and more-or-less entire (musical) phrases used as intros/outros.

More than anything, Death Grips displays, if not a reliance, then a predilection for hooks on Year of the Snitch. This was evident previously. (The Money Store’s “I’ve Seen Footage” is essentially a disco track with Ride screaming over it.) Even on the album closer, “Disappointed,” the main chorus section is a long and catchy, albeit hectic, rock bit that could be featured on an early-’60s rockabilly cut. Of course, the track descends into noise soon after, but the takeaway is that it doesn’t remain contextless. (Although it’s arguable that it never has been contextless.)

Functioning as modern music’s deconstructionist weirdos, Death Grips’ latest record might just convince you that there’s something beyond the veil of noise and uneasiness that surrounds the trio.

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