Words by Joe Gilbertson
It’s quite hard to imagine anyone who takes an active interest in music still being oblivious to the existence of Sacramento’s Death Grips in 2016. The experimental hip-hop trio are now on their fifth full length record (one of which was a double LP released in two parts eight months apart) alongside their début mixtape and an instrumental album; they’ve broken up via a message on a napkin and reformed, leaked their own album and proudly lost a record label with Epic for it, and they’ve even been cited as an influence on David Bowie and Biffy Clyro’s newest albums. Their value, however, is all too often ignored by the majority, due to an internet hype largely reducing them to a meme. It doesn’t help that most people are unlikely to hear the cause of this hype at first – besides the odd song like ‘I’ve Seen Footage’ or ‘Get Got’, much of Death Grips discography is somewhat inaccessible, mixing diverse influences into uncompromising, ambitious and forward thinking music. Despite this, if Death Grips are ever going to penetrate the mainstream any more than they already have, this is the album to do it.
Bottomless Pit is bookended with two of the band’s most guitar-heavy, hardcore-influenced tracks: ‘Giving Bad People Good Ideas’ kicks off the record with a fairly simple affair, a three-minute blast of distorted guitars and relentless punk drumming with a synthetic-sounding vocal sample hook. ‘Bottomless Pit’ closes it in a similar style, based around a simple refrain of “I fucked you in half // I fucked you in half” and featuring many more of MC Ride’s most intense, violent and sexual lyrics as well as surprisingly nice harmonies. Lead single ‘Hot Head’ is easily one of the most disorienting tracks here with it’s off-beat, noisy and chaotic sections but like nearly every song, it builds to a hook so strong it could have been included on a Kanye West track.
From this point onwards, Bottomless Pit shapes into one of Death Grips most immediate, structured and catchy albums yet – tracks like ‘Spikes’ benefit from not being too drawn-out or experimental, sticking with a mix of electronic production with layers of occasional guitar and effects and of course a brilliantly infectious chorus. ‘Warping’ is one of the most impressively produced tracks on the record, with its sluggish, slow beat being massively exaggerated by the effects on Ride’s vocals. ‘Eh’, Ride’s ode to apathy, is in some ways fairly unremarkable, but it provides some much needed contrast for the more attention-grabbing pieces on the record to stand out. ‘Bubbles Buried in This Jungle’ almost reinvents ‘I’ve Seen Footage’ with its simple, repeating droney bass riff, but it’s far heavier and features some brilliantly de-tuned, fucked up futuristic synth sounds.
Sadly though, there are some weaker spots on this record. ‘Trash’, ‘Houdini’ and ‘BB Poison’ are accomplished and enjoyable tracks with interesting textures, but perhaps suffer from their simpler nature when compared to the band’s previous works. On Jenny Death Death Grips mastered the art of longer, more complex songs like ‘Centuries of Damn’ and ‘On GP’ and in many places this album feels like it lacks some of the experimentation needed to keep the band progressing. However – when they nail this style, they do so incredibly. ‘Three Bedrooms in a Good Neighbourhood’ is savagely infectious, but it’s then blown out of the water by album highlight ‘Ring a Bell’ – boasting a verse riff that sounds like an oncoming alien invasion and arguably their finest chorus hook ever. The dark and tense soundscape of ‘80808’ and the aforementioned title track give Bottomless Pit one of the finest finishes to an album one could ask for. This album may be somewhat disappointing after what was potentially their career best with Jenny Death, but there are enough fantastic songs here to prove that Death Grips are still one of the most relentlessly brilliant, aggressive and intense experimental acts today. Are they the best punk band in the world? Probably.