Death Grips is not a cool band. Whatever vogue abstruseness they cultivated after their first mixtape quickly vanished as they played dom to their fans and their press. Soured attitudes – and a fanbase that consumes their material as fervently as they speculate details regarding the band – has led to them occupying a somewhat impenetrable position in popular music. The antics and cryptic nature pushed away speculative listeners before the obtuse, genre-neutralizing music ever could. But following their break up note, the coda album Jenny Death, and the 2015 tour, the musical landscape that they hastily rushed into had changed. The modish way to deliver an album was the same that Death Grips had used to eviscerate their reputation: keep the listener in the dark with details until the release date. The Life of Pablo. A Moon Shaped Pool. The Colour in Anything. Lemonade and Beyoncé’s self-titled album. The particulars for each record came at a moment by moment basis until they appeared, accompanied by a radio show introduction, a short film, or a Madison Square Garden live stream. These two arcs, the one where popular music is consumed and how Death Grips interact with popular music seem to be intersecting. What Death Grips did to maintain authority offers no authority and offers no mystic enticement with the consumer when the consumer is accustomed to this. So what do they do? Unveil the most tame album cycle to date: an announcement, an EP, an artwork and track-list reveal, snippets and then a release. To summarize: Death Grips’ modus operandi is to not be cool.
And they have succeeded in that effort. As much as The Powers That B was the ending to a self-fulfilling prophecy, with dueling sonic territories and grand finales, they painted themselves into that musical and ideological corner. Theatrics and feverish desires for the end of Death Grips had been running on fumes. So once they ended, an announcement of an album could only be met with curiosity. Masturbatory efforts – on the music end and in the public sphere – would not be tolerated. Death Grips recognized the need to gratify as much as they see the need to damn. And Bottomless Pit shows us Stefan, Andy, and Zach receding into a trance in order to create something intrinsic. Bottomless Pit is forty minutes of fully fleshed songs, ornately fashioned with stylistic choices that makes this the most album-esque release from the trio. Functioning introductions with measured pacing offer a streamlined approach to Death Grips riotous hip-hop medley. And at this point it’s difficult to say if Death Grips even act as hip-hop, with very clear variations being introduced that resemble storied genres with a hip-hop front. “Giving Bad People Good Ideas” beautifully drops in the chaos with black metal style blast-beats that fall squarely through a trap door. Hazy guitars are used less as full frontal assaults like in Jenny Death and more as the basis for the cold and dilapidated atmosphere. V-drums return, locked in with dance-punk precision. As effortless as they make it seem, these roundabout conclusions have been the result of careers worth of music.
This sleight of hand used to reach these purgative moments seem to be the primary variance to the previous Death Grips canon. Whereas the dissonance between the casual listener and seasoned fan was huge in earlier works, the inexorable nature of these works has faded with time. The lengthy and progressive songs of Jenny Death reserved payoff for those who acclimated to the shellshock. Government Plates threw down a vivid gauntlet of glossy EDM flavors that grew hypnotic as the record progressed. Bottomless Pit finds its straightforwardness here; offering lucid, dancey moments almost immediately, rendering the record shallow in an immediate sense. Additionally the toolkit seems cherry picked; the sonic textures selected from previous records to be as vigorous and memorable as possible. The payoff for Bottomless Pit is also its limiting factor, never gaining the added value that previous works have taken years to impart.
But concession still mean Bottomless Pit is synthesized for each moment and idea, splicing previous album themes to create something distinctly Voltronian and vivere in momento. Sober vocals from Stefan present on their 2012 releases appear again, speaking with a hushed intimacy on “Eh”. The soft grid of synths coil and crawl, tracing the apathetic lyrics into shadowy corners. No Love Deep Web walls of feedback raze the ascending keys on “Warping” and act as a runic and futuristic summon for “Bubbles Buried in This Jungle”. Government Plates’ shiny synths find second life in the chimes of “80808”. But any reference to previous work is ultimately boosted by the ketamine-infused hooks that made The Money Store so visceral. But on Bottomless Pit, the hooks aren’t limited to the repeated vocal phrases. The gauzy guitars mirror the melody of Stefan for a surprisingly evocative delivery. “Spikes” features an echo chamber of ‘oh’s trailing off before the voltaic and spine-tingling chorus erupts with retro-arcade idiosyncrasy. Even the lyrics condense the brevity of previous albums into less personal songs, opting for lyrics that lack hubris. Death Grips have genetically enhanced the sounds and imagery to create their most revelatory as well as sentient release; if this isn’t a celebratory record, it’s deranged enough to mimic jubilee.
Every moment for Death Grips has been a marriage of ideas: the vocals emerging from the gut while every beat is tangible in your hands, the hip-hop bastardization of so many experimental philosophies, and the cyberpunk pop aesthetic. But these conglomerates are often wielded with little concern for outcome. They thrash and spew bile until they expire. Their connectedness rejects itself in the form of songs. While previous albums have captured the feeling of wrestling with these ideas, Bottomless Pit finally chains together autonomy from song to song to achieve a record that feels worldly for Death Grips. The power structure of their relationship is one of comfort, where Death Grips exist to create without risk. And while it’s safe, musical spires of harmony exist and crumble within the view of Death Grips. The path of least resistance can contort and dynamize, conducting energy without having to create it. And it can stir even the most somber of people.
– T. Pennington