‘Year of the Snitch’ is existential crisis set to mediocre beats

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Grade: 2.0/5.0

Year of the Snitch, like much of Death Grips’ work, plays as one long nightmare.

The Sacramento experimental trio — comprising MC Ride, Zach Hill and Andy Morin — is true to form on its sixth studio album. Year of the Snitch is a sprawling hellscape of animal aggression, as well as Death Grips’ most sonically diverse work yet. But that diversity works against the album, muddying the viscerality that made the band so compelling in the first place.

MC Ride’s rapping is understated, used more often for vocal texturing than for the exasperated stream of consciousness that characterized previous works. Without Ride’s filthy poetry front and center, many songs feel pointless — as though they’re experimentation for experimentation’s sake. The result is an uneven, overlong album that brings little to Death Grips’ already stellar discography.

Predictably, the group shines when it sticks to what it knows. On “Flies” and “Streaky,” two of the lead singles, MC Ride is at peak form, painting doom and debauchery to sick synth beats. His lyrics rarely hint at a larger plot — their strength lies in the disturbing, fleeting snapshots each disjointed phrase conjures.

MC Ride describes urban blight and corpses on “Flies,” his monotone disgusted and numb. “Streaky,” on the other hand, appears an upbeat party track at surface. Ride’s signature “yuh” punctuates frantic verses about sodomy and chasing cash. The desperation in Ride’s delivery is palpable and infectious, with the song’s only problem being the post-chorus lyric “Don’t throw it on the ground,” a probably accidental homage to the similarly titled Lonely Island track.

While some of the samples are stellar, the record scratching proves the album’s dark horse. Collaborator DJ Swamp steals the spotlight with creative and textured patterns on the best and worst tracks alike. On “Black Paint,” the most wildly energetic song on the album, he accompanies ambulance sirens and heavy rock guitars to create a symphony of chaos. Yet he also provides the intro to “Little Richard,” an amateurish Kraftwerk tribute. That’s not because of Swamp’s scratch work, however — the DJ wholly hypes listeners up for the song to come.

Ultimately, Death Grips fails when it uses MC Ride’s voice as just another instrument. On the group’s previous works, his verses allowed producers Morin and Hill to develop experimental musical motifs without sounding too repetitive. The band muddies Ride’s vocals beyond recognition, using his flow as percussion.

Though the idea of deconstructing a lead vocalist to just his rhythm is interesting enough, its execution is lacking. Mostly instrumental cuts such as “Linda’s in Custody” and “The Fear” suffer and drag with no clear direction. The two solely instrumental interludes, “The Horn Section” and “Outro,” are simply uninteresting. Compared to last year’s “Steroids (Crouching Tiger Hidden Gabber Megamix),” a 22-minute cut of highly danceable beats, the experimental work on Year of the Snitch is largely underwhelming and rarely noteworthy.

Perhaps the only experiment worth keeping on the whole album is the closer, “Disappointed.” The song is effectively pop punk, its refrain ripe for karaoke and its chorus rife with teen angst. On verses, MC Ride repeats each word, once in his monotone and once in his outside voice. Excitement builds until Ride lets out a primal scream on the chorus, yelling, “Why me?” It’s an invigorating end to an album with few other memorable moments.

On Year of the Snitch, Death Grips appears at some sort of existential crisis. The industrial hip-hop sound that the group helped popularize is, consequently, no longer “experimental.” Harsh effects and lo-fi aesthetics are part of hip-hop’s mainstream thanks to the DIY SoundCloud wave.

Though Death Grips sounds as DIY as ever, Year of the Snitch leans away from the grimy electro and noisy samples that put Death Grips on the map. It’s an eclectic collection of songs that never quite feels like a cohesive album. Rather than revel in the success of the movement it pioneered, Death Grips chose instead to seek the next big thing. Whatever that may be, it’s certainly not on Year of the Snitch.

Contact Seiji Sakiyama at [email protected].