Review: Death Grips, Bottomless Pit

Finally, an album that pulls together everything that makes Death Grips great
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Finally, an album that pulls together everything that makes Death Grips great
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Death Grips have never been traditional. They’ve actively avoided it for the past five years. It’d be easy to classify their outlandish antics as publicity stunts, but that’s a dangerous train of thought, because at a certain point you’d be forced to start calling the band’s entire existence one big stunt. When an artist’s career begins by baffling critics with one of the most sonically aggressive mixtapes in hip-hop history, ends with a breakup that lasts for all of eight months, and throws a dick on an album cover somewhere in the middle, it’s tempting to write them off as attention-seekers, but that ignores the crucial fact that their music is wholly unique. It’s an abrasively beautiful anomaly, not quite like anything that’s been done before or since (or during, I should say; they don’t look to be finished yet). Each of their albums to date has revealed something new from the band’s seemingly limitless bag of tricks, but what’s slightly frustrated me as a fan is that no single one of their releases has managed to pull together everything that makes them great. They all operate on bits and pieces: The Money Store had hooks, No Love Deep Web had an oppressively dark atmosphere, Government Plates had Flatlander’s frenetic synth contributions, and the two halves of The Powers That B had free-form instrumental noodling and loud fuzzy guitar riffs, respectively. I’ve always thought that if the band pulled together all these elements, they could have a near-perfect album on their hands. So what do I do now that Bottomless Pit does exactly that? What do I do now that they’ve released the album I’ve wanted for the past four years?

If Death Grips were a more conventional band, Bottomless Pit would have been the album that followed The Money Store. Their material in between would have been locked away in the Sacramento safe-deposit box where they kept their demos, perhaps to be released as a massive compilation to great fanfare years later, and Bottomless Pit would be hailed as the triumphant return of a band who took their sweet time to refine their sound. I make this connection because this is easily the most accessible Death Grips record apart from The Money Store, and their first one since to harken back to that album’s hook-based formula. The first few seconds of the album make this stylistic return clear—“Giving Bad People Good Ideas” begins with the unaccompanied, multi-tracked voice of Cherry Glazerr’s Clementine Creevy delivering Death Grips’ first vocal guest feature since Mexican Girl’s spot on Exmilitary, nailing the descent into her low alto range before the inevitable explosion of drums, electric guitar, and MC Ride’s irreplaceable vocals. The track’s progression marks a deviation for the band; instead of total chaos or total order, they introduce new vocal and guitar hooks as often as they revisit earlier ones, maintaining a measure of unpredictability (even when you think it’s over, they have a couple surprises to throw at you). The sinister undertones are certainly there (just look at the title), but unlike much of their discography up to this point, the song’s easy to enjoy without giving any thought to its dark thematic trappings. This track is destined to one day totally light up a club whose occupants have never heard it before. “Death Grips?” the ones in the back will ask, squinting at their Shazam results while the venue erupts around them. “Weren’t they the ones with the dick on the cover?”

Speaking of club-ready songs, “Spikes” is just brilliant—maybe their best track ever, and with gems like “Hacker” and “On GP” in their back catalog, I’m aware that’s a bold statement. But what could you possibly want from a Death Grips song that “Spikes” doesn’t have in spades? Zach Hill’s drums crackle with an electric edge as they pan disorientingly across audio channels, while MC Ride’s rapping and lyrics are the best they’ve ever been (“I’m all helter skelter, I’m on that Faust” ties in wickedly well with the album’s title, and you can hear the pure triumph in “I’m finally astral now, grab my stems” toward the end). Every time the guitar line repeats itself, it feels like a new beat drop. With “Spikes”, Death Grips have created something equally bloodthirsty and danceable, the soundtrack to the hottest rave in the sketchiest part of town. I’m in awe. “Ring a Bell” is Bottomless Pit’s other major highlight, beginning with MC Ride waxing uncharacteristically political (“America, America, now I’m coming Africa/My death is money”) and proving that he should probably do so more often (his perpetual vitriol fits well with a more hot-button message, even if it’s short-lived here). The track is one of the heaviest musical hitters on the album, too, although the best moments are the more minimal ones (specifically the chorus guitar part’s initial entrance, where it stands briefly isolated in the mix, and the unconventional, bare-bones percussion that acts as Ride’s sole accompaniment as he opens the second verse).

The songs on Bottomless Pit are shorter than usual for Death Grips (“Hot Head” is the only track over four minutes), but this doesn’t restrict the band at all; the tight framework works well for them, allowing them to stuff as many juicy moments as they can into a small span of time. That’s what brings us the alien noise 30 seconds into “Hot Head”, the sound of a cybernetic behemoth coming to life after years of slumber. Or the jittery synths that back the disillusioned lyrics on “Eh”. Or the chopped-up sound effects complementing the forceful, offbeat vocal stylings of “Three Bedrooms In a Good Neighborhood”. Or the relentless onslaught of the title track, which closes the album in the most Death Grips way possible: MC Ride shouting a disturbing catchphrase (in this case, “I’ll fuck you in half”). I haven’t even gotten into half the tracks on the album, but rest assured there’s not a single weak link here. Bottomless Pit’s bloodthirsty joyousness is infectious, refreshing, and exactly what you’d hope for from a new Death Grips release. It’s the culmination of everything they’ve been working towards since the beginning, and in absolutely no respect does it disappoint.

I keep trying to find something wrong with this album, something for me to criticize, something that rings false somehow, but I’m at a loss. How much more hyperbolic can I get? “10/10, baby”? “Album of the year”? I can’t quite give it that honor (a certain celestial body of water robs it of that distinction), but I can settle for it being the best release from one of the most exciting artists of the 2010s. I’ve gone right back to being a fanboy again. A MINUS