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Courtesy of Thirdworlds Records

May 10, 2016

TEST SPIN: Death Grips — Bottomless Pit

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I’m no Death Grips stan (à la Anthony Fantano), but I am someone who has genuinely liked all the music they’ve put out. After every release, though, there’s a little voice in the back of my head that wonders if MC Ride, Zach Hill and Andy Morin are fucking with us. Do they really believe their abrasive industrial x noise x hip-hop hodgepodge is good music, art or both? Or are they sitting in Sacramento, laughing at their legions of hyperdedicated fans for falling for their joke? Either way, they’re smarter than all of us.

Listening to their latest release, though, was the first time the “are they fucking with us” thought never crossed my mind. Bottomless Pit is without a doubt their most well-structured effort yet. Every track falls on the record falls into an infectious groove, it’s quite melodic and has segments that are — dare I say — catchy.

It’s moments like the shout-along chorus of “Three Bedrooms In A Good Neighborhood” that urge me to recommend Bottomless Pit as a Death Grips jumping-off point. If you’ve never heard them before (how?) or you thought they were too rough on the ears, try Bottomless Pit on for size. If you’re still not swayed, I could play the “you just don’t get it” card, but hey, it can’t be for everyone.

If MC Ride’s lyrics were just a bit more decipherable, I’d be shouting along with this album from start to finish. Whereas their previous releases felt more intellectual, more high concept, Bottomless Pit plays pretty well as unchallenging pump-up music — or at least can coexist with the more get-up-and-go tracks from Run the Jewels 2, for example.

Much of the record’s accessibility lies in its transparency. Death Grips hide less behind an imposing wall of sound and instead wear many of their influences on their sleeves — a move that makes their latest effort more relatable, familiar and welcoming than The Money Store, for example. The opener, “Giving Bad People Good Ideas,” features a pulsing metal drive like a heartbeat gone out of control. The heavily overdriven guitar stops short of being just noise, and is markedly more melodic than most songs with four bars of one note. “Spikes” shares some twisting elements of mainstream dubstep (looking at you, deadmau5), while the album’s title track plays like a punk jam with a hard-rock edge under MC Ride’s abstract raps. Somewhat less expectedly, “Hot Head” sounds like a 16-bit video game soundtrack gone haywire, and behind the grime of “Ring A Bell” lies a distinctly vapor groove.

Bottomless Pit also exhibits Death Grips’ much-improved handle on texture and space than their previous work. Perhaps due to their recent instrumental project, Interview 2016, the group’s sound is now fuller and more complete than ever. The popping synths on “Eh” that are halfway between a computer in a ’70s sci-fi film and a Kygo bridge live in three dimensions, and the muddy swells of “80808” fill sonic space unlike anything from No Love, Deep Web or even The Powers That B.

Over this stellar production work from Zach Hill and Andy Morin resides MC Ride’s no-holds-barred vocals. His delivery is as forceful as ever, filled with angry urgency. His ferocious bars lend further intensity to the already gripping album, with 100 percent intelligibility always just out of reach. While occasional indecipherability only adds to Death Grips’ manic fervor, the lyrics are helpfully available on the group’s website. Spoiler: they’re manic indeed. Honestly, unintelligibility is favorable to most of the incoherent babble being spouted by MC Ride (unless, again, they’re smarter than all of us). For illustration’s sake, here’s a choice snippet from the title track: “Gag ’til I’m all drenched/ fucked you in half / I see you fiending marvelous/ Gagballs drooling pools.” Um … “gagballs.”

Lyrical content aside — because hey, you probably won’t understand it anyway — Bottomless Pit is the most approachable, if not the flat-out best, Death Grips effort to date. Their musical approach is more mature, intelligent and skilled than ever, with a finesse that minimizes abject brutality without sacrificing rage. Past Death Grips releases have made me feel like an onlooker into the group’s hellish, upside-down world, but Bottomless Pit welcomes listeners in with open arms.

Mike Sosnick is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at mhs256@cornellsun.com. 

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