By Alexander Cole
In an age where countless musical acts are making strides to redefine genres and alienate listeners with foreign sounds and forward-thinking production, it has become difficult to be truly amazed and alienated by a musician’s work. In 2016, most music listeners are desensitized to experimentation and the odd, yet ear-blowing sounds that are sometimes produced from it.
However, since 2011, one group has managed to completely shatter the expectations of an entire genre, while alienating listeners and making casual music fans scratch their heads and wonder, “What am I even listening to right now?”
That group would be the California based Death Grips. For those who have never heard of the band, Death Grips is an experimental Hip-Hop group composed of lyricist and vocalist, Stefan Burnett, otherwise known as MC Ride. Former Wavves and Hella drummer, Zach Hill on drums, while Andy Morin does all of the production work.
Death Grips stormed onto the scene in 2011 with their debut mix-tape “ExMilitary”. It was on this mix-tape that the world was introduced to the intense and abrasive sounds of the group. The production on the mix-tape was a mix of industrial sounds, blended with electronic music and even some metal. The beats were abrasive and Mc Ride’s
flow was frantic and full of brutal and over the top imagery. The video for their song “Guillotine” gave the world a taste of their craziness and had the internet buzzing about this new band.
In 2012, Death Grips followed up with their first album titled, “The Money Store”. The album was praised by critics for its ability to merge such an abrasive sound with catchy hooks and cohesive themes. Since “The Money Store”, Death Grips have released four other albums: “No Love, Deep Web” (2012), “Government Plates” (2013), “Fashion Week” (2015), “The Powers That B” (2015).
With every new release since “The Money Store”, Death Grips have gotten more and more abrasive with their sounds. “No Love, Deep Web” for instance, had a very primal sound to it. The down-tuned drums made the listener feel anxious, while the industrial beats pulsated around your head, making you feel as though you had just entered a red room on the Dark Web. “The Powers That B” was another change for the band as they tried to shift their attention to implementing guitars into the instrumentals. This new sound was welcomed by fans but admittedly, some of the strings felt underwhelming at times.
Throughout their short history, Death Grips has been a favourite amongst music critics, due to their forward-thinking approach to hip-hop; a genre that has been watered down by artists like Lil Uzi Vert for years. However, casual music listeners tend to hate Death Grips because the music is just too harsh to listen to. Their music isn’t the kind you dance too, or do homework to, or even just chill to. Their music makes you think about what you are listening to, forcing the listener to peel back the layers and assess every single part of the music. Reading MC Ride’s lyrics is like trying to solve Rubik’s cube made out of words. For those who feel like MC Ride, the lyrics can take only a few seconds to decipher, but for those who are alien to his thoughts and his madness, his work can take years to decipher.
Now with all that said, 2016 is the year that Death Grips brings us their highly anticipated 7th project, titled “Bottomless Pit”. Earlier this year, the group shared their first single off the album, “Hot Head”. Upon first listen, “Hot Head” was a mess of a song that many deemed as the group’s most abrasive song to date. The electronic production was a complete barrage of glitchy drum patterns, as well as a vocal assault from MC Ride. However, despite the song’s abrasiveness, the hook of the song proved to be quite catchy, while the guitar hook during the chorus was surprisingly satisfying to the ears. After “Hot Head’s” release, it was anticipated that “Bottomless Pit” would be the band’s hardest to listen to album to date, but now that all 13 songs have been released, that sentiment has proved to be the opposite.
On the opening track “Giving Bad People Good Ideas” we are treated to a hook sung by “Mexican girl”, an artist that the group collaborated with on “ExMilitary”. On this track, MC Ride is hard to understand but we get a sense of his distaste for society and his distaste for the world he is living in. Much like “Hot Head”, this track is extremely abrasive as far as album openers go. The instrumental incorporates blast beats that are normally saved for the latest black metal records. However, Zach Hill and Andy Morin compliment these blast beats with some shoegaze-black metal guitars that attack your ears. The instrumental is unlike anything the group has done before and is a welcomed sound for a group that is re-defining the term “hip-hop instrumental”.
The next song on this album is “Hot Head”. The first two songs are by far the most abrasive and serve as a means to tell the listener “You made it past these first two songs, congratulations. Now here is your reward.” And let me tell you, the reward is worth it.
The third song “Spikes” is what could very well prove to be the best song in the group’s entire discography. The drums are all over the place while the guitar parts are glitchy and well-done. Unlike “The Powers That B”, where the guitar parts were underwhelming and underdeveloped, the guitar on this album is so powerful and prominent that it’s hard not to feel excited for the direction the group is going in. Not to mention, MC Ride’s flow on this track is catchy as hell and the hook feels like it could belong on “The Money Store”. “Spikes” is a song that even the most prude hip-hop purists could get behind.
The next song on the album, “Warping” is another great song that, while not as catchy as “Spikes”, the instrumental gets in your face and provides great lyricism. The keyboards, on this track are fun to listen to while Ride’s flow works hand in hand with the beat. The only problem with the track is that proves to be less memorable than many of the others on the album.
“Eh” is another incredible song from this album, that one of the most subdued and laid back beats ever heard in a Death Grips song. The electronic production sounds like what can only be described as “bubble gum industrial”. MC Ride’s lyrics are funny on this track as he cleverly lists things in his life and brushes them off as “Eh”. He even goes as far as to say that even when hanging from a noose he’s “like eh”. The song’s hook is even catchier than “Spikes'” and is another high point on the album.
The next track, “Bubbles Buried in This Jungle” has a great dance-able drum beat as well as more glitchy electronic production and distorted guitar. MC Ride comes with another great hook and shows that he is more than a capable song writer. Ride’s songwriting ability comes together once again on the next song titled “Trash” where Ride comments on the state of the internet and how everyday, countless people rush the web to download and upload whatever we please, or as Ride would call it…”Trash”. On Trash, the instrumental seems oddly orchestral, with string sections that compliment the chorus. Both of these songs are another example of how dynamic and impressive the sounds of this album are.
The next two songs on the album, “Houdini” and “BB Poison” are the two weak points of the album. The songs aren’t terrible or anything of that nature, but the instrumentals on both songs almost seem interchangeable and “samey”. While both instrumentals do have unique features, the chorus’ sounded similar and they were both on the underwhelming side. However, “BB Poison” does have its moments in terms of experimentation and glitchiness. If there was any point in the album where I thought the band was writing songs to fill space, it was on these two tracks.
Track nine, “Three Bedrooms in a Good Neighborhood” brings the album back to its glory with an incredibly frantic and anxiety-inducing instrumental that is almost impossible to not get behind. MC Ride comes through with some more aggressive lyrics and a catchy flow. Ride, rides the beat to perfection in a way that mirrors the rest of the album. Ride’s ability to rhyme over the beats is seen once again in “Ring a Bell”; another great track from the album. “Ring a Bell’s” chorus has one of the most beautiful guitar hooks to ever bless a Death Grips songs. Meanwhile, during each verse, the guitar is distorted and aggressive while Zach Hill comes in with incredible technical drumming.
“80808”, the second to last song on the album, features yet another catchy flow from MC Ride, as well eerie production. The beat gets under your skin, and would make anyone listening to the song in the dark get a little spooked out. However, the song is upstaged by the final track on the album, “Bottomless Pit”. The final song has an incredible upbeat guitar lick with some upbeat drumming by Zach Hill. The song is a perfect way to send off the album and sounds as though it could be used for some kind of triumphant montage. MC Ride doesn’t have too much to say on this final track but he doesn’t need to say anything really. The title track is a confirmation of the greatness of this album and is a way of saying thank you for sticking it out for all 13 glorious tracks.
Overall “Bottomless Pit” is by far one of Death Grips’s best projects to date. The album incorporates the best parts of all of their other albums and improves upon them, creating a cohesive 39 minute album that is enjoyable from start to finish. While, “Houdini” and “BB Poison” serve as low points, they do not feel far off sonically from the rest of the record and in the end are quite forgivable. The album is one of their most accessible records and provides some of the catchiest songs in the group’s discography. Old fans and news fans will surely be satisfied by this record. With many fans in the Death Grips subreddit claiming this as their favourite record, with practically no negative reviews, it is safe to say that “Bottomless Pit” is the group’s “Magnum Opus”.
It is impossible to have expectations for a group as unpredictable as Death Grips, however, the expectation is always to get something good. The group has never put out a bad project and “Bottomless Pit” is but another win on their seven album winning streak. It is hard to say what is next for the group but if they keep going in this direction. they are sure to keep up the success.
Favourite Tracks: Giving Bad People Good Ideas, Hot Head, Spikes, Eh, Bubbles Buried in this Jungle, Trash, Three Bedrooms in a Good Neighborhood, Ring a Bell, Bottomless Pit.
Least Favourite Tracks: Houdini, BB Poison
If you want to listen to the record, you can find it on youtube:At this link