Release Date: May 6, 2016
Record label: Third Worlds
The experimental band Negativland introduced the concept of “culture jamming” to the world in 1984, defining it as “an awareness of how the media environment we occupy affects and directs our inner life.” They coined the term largely as a cynical reaction to America’s commercial monuments: billboards, logos, fashion trends and the like, but the phrase’s subtext isn’t as nihilistic as it may seem. By defining the phrase, Negativland and their peers legitimized it as a tool to deface and expose the dark side of capitalism, inviting artists to punch back through graffiti, guerrilla radio, fliers, and other media. With the advent of Internet and social media, culture jamming’s grown more ubiquitous than ever.
For their fifth album in four years, elusive noise-rap provocateurs Death Grips have finally settled into a "sound": future b-boys spaz-screaming their way out of the glitches of punk and cyberpunk past. Building off the speedier ends of last year's The Powers That B, Bottomless Pit has a shell of mid-Eighties crossover punk and thrash metal — blastbeats, bellows, arch sloganeering — but it's built almost exclusively out of digital noise and disgustingly distorted guitars. A man-machine divide informs the lyrics, a cut-up where body horror meets information overload — part Burroughs, part Cronenberg, part Gibson: "Luster of entrails stacked and slung/Under cement veils my traffic hums.
California-based avant-garde hip-hop group Death Grips were last on the radar in 2015 when they released Jenny Death, the anticipated second part of their fourth full-length effort, The Powers That B. Now the widely revered powerhouse of industrial hip-hop returns with its fifth LP, Bottomless Pit. The album is standard nihilistic Death Grips, with some extra clarity thrown in with the vitriol, courtesy of producers Zach Hill and Andy Morin.
It was anyone's guess as to where the music of Death Grips would head next following the pummelling electronics of The Powers That B closer "Death Grips 2. 0. " Of course, that doesn't even cover the rest of the musical spectrum that record explored, with everything from hardcore punk to psych rock having played a role.
Four years ago, Death Grips exemplified the anti-corporate violence and rugged individualism of black-bloc anarchism. The tattooed and bearded Stefan Burnett boomed and growled like a punk incarnation of Chuck D, while Andy “Flatlander” Morin punched out electronic fusillade. Drummer Zach Hill composed impossibly ornate drum volleys while showing us his erect dick.
For a band who supposedly retired just last year, claiming to be over because “we are now at our best”, Death Grips are surprisingly busy. They’ve always been a provocative band – both musically and in their approach, whether it’s faux retirements, not turning up to shows and leaving a death note on a screen onstage, or releasing albums out the blue, you can always expect the unexpected from Death Grips. And yet, musically you always know where you stand – the sound of a Death Grips record is unmistakable – powerful, aggressive and confrontational.
Ever since the underground punk/hip-hop masterpiece of Exmilitary, Death Grips have been simultaneously the most underrated and overrated alternative hip-hop duo in existence. This is a group who’s main appeal is their internet shenanigans, cover art so controversial that it makes the Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers innocuous in comparison, and their inability to remain on any one label due to their insane lifestyle. At the same time, it’s impossible to deny the innovativeness of Zach Hill’s razor-sharp punk instrumentals and MC Ride’s lyrical content, successfully blending two genres that people neither wanted to nor thought possible to merge.
At the finale of their double album last year, Death Grips teased rebirth. Nine months after announcing the end of Death Grips in between releasing the two halves that made up The Powers That B, the Sacramento experimental trio not only released the fantastic second half, Jenny Death, but announced an extensive tour to coincide with their completed fourth full-length. Fans still questioned whether The Powers That B would be the band’s final album as previously stated; considering Death Grips’ “fuck everything but the art” attitude that inspired their cynical and carefree way of creating and releasing music, nothing was final.
Beyond the pale of death and a special trade agreement with Harvest/Capitol Records, there lies a new world. A Third World. It’s flesh-colored, sticky, smells like poison, and consists of dicks getting waved around in your face while you descend endlessly through the black and breezy vortex of a Bottomless Pit, helpless to take any action toward salvation, other than flailing your limbs as you enter deeper, deeper, deeper.
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.
Radical rap, strained through absurdity and grotesqueness, Death Grips' fifth full-length effectively services – and disrupts – both punk and hip-hop. Abrasive starter "Giving Bad People Good Ideas," featuring Cherry Glazerr vocalist Clementine Creevy, leans into jagged, rusty knives electro paranoia. The swirling, somewhat low key (for Death Grips) Bottomless Pit finds MC Ride rapping in his speaking voice like a vintage Tricky minus the Bristol accent.