BOTTOMLESS PIT by Death Grips
Genre: Experimental Hip Hop
Favorite Tracks: “ Giving Bad People Good Ideas,” “Spikes,” “Warping,” “Eh,” “BB Poison,” “Three Bedrooms in a Good Neighborhood,” “Ring a Bell,” “8080808”
Okay. Well, here it is, the latest release from Sacramento shit-starters, Death Grips: BOTTOMLESS PIT. Honestly, it’s astounding that this could be described as their most sonically diverse release yet, but its ridiculous pace and seemingly meticulous production indicate it very well could be. Featuring intense, heavy, guitar-sounding synths, field recordings and samples of past Death Grips songs, and a constant barrage of electrifying, high-bpm percussion consisting of live and electronic samples constitute the narrative of the record; experientially similar to being chased through a rainforest while blind. Vocally, Stefan Burnett’s performance isn’t as raw as on the bare-bones NO LOVE DEEP WEB, nor does he deliver as much range as on THE POWERS THAT B. What is striking about BOTTOMLESS PIT, however, is that balance found between Burnett’s ever-present in-your-ear berating and Zach Hill and Andy Morin’s rapid-fire instrumental work, one not found since their major label debut, THE MONEY STORE.
Surprisingly enough, they create a space where information is rushing past, cutting and shoving as it overwhelms the listener, while somehow managing to stay cohesive and devoid of slip-ups similar to “Fuck Me Out,” “PSS PSS,” or “Bootleg” that so badly bruised past records. There isn’t a single track that overstays its welcome, averaging around three minutes each. Working in this range, Death Grips cram in as many trinkets of sound as possible, leaving each track full and lush with meticulously placed fills, interludes, and guitar/synth lines. The meticulous production in BOTTOMLESS PIT may actually be one of its most remarkable aspects, especially because it’s the follow up to JENNY DEATH, the record we were told in 2014 would be their final release.
JENNY DEATH was really a marvelous spectacle — so much so that all it was was spectacle. It was a record built for and from the hype that had been slowly growing over Death Grips since their cataclysmic departure from Epic Records, leaking NO LOVE DEEP WEB in 2012 and replacing its artwork with an image of Zach Hill’s erect penis, featuring the album title written in sharpie on said penis. From thereon Death Grips became something more than a band; they became an act, a performance art piece. The two records that followed, GOVERNMENT PLATES and NIGGAS ON THE MOON, were both dropped without warning. NIGGAS ON THE MOON, being the first half of the double album THE POWERS THAT B, promised the eventual release of its second half, JENNY DEATH, the apparent last Death Grips record. Fast-forward to January 2015, and the band drops FASHION WEEK, forteen instrumental tracks of previously unheard music. At this point the hype and social media attention was at its climax, and finally in March 2015 JENNY DEATH was finally out; their last record — now we can all rest, right?
Well, if their past behavior is of any indication, they’re obviously fucking with us. And really, did you actually listen to JENNY DEATH? Was it not a record constructed specifically to satisfy the hype that had been building? Opening with a song like “I Break Mirrors With My Face In The United States,” an outrageous punk callback — that’s what we all wanted wasn’t it? Or the banger-to-end-all-bangers “Inanimate Sensation”? How about the sick, slimy, piss fetish “PSS PSS”? I mean we all loved EXMILITARY’s “I Want It I Need It,” and folks were clamoring at them to return to their roots. Meanwhile, the entirety of JENNY DEATH’s B-side consisted of epics like “Century of Damn” and “The Powers That B,” culminating with the seven-minute “On GP” that just screamed, “here it is, this is it, this is what you wanted, we’re done with you now.”
But was it really even close to their best? Was it not a record specifically constructed to satisfy the most vocal of fans and critics — to simulate “ending it all”? How could that possibly be their best? EXMILITARY wasn’t made to satisfy anyone, and neither was NO LOVE DEEP WEB. JENNY DEATH was a clunky record of “Death Grips sounds” obviously mashed together to simulate genuineness, bearing plenty of pitfalls and just a few truly great moments.
Now, what’s so amazing about BOTTOMLESS PIT is that it seems to be a genuine return to not-giving-a-shit form. And as much as folks wanted Death Grips to just call it quits, they actually pulled it off again, probably because they weren’t under as much pressure to create the perfect album and instead could just make another one. Essentially, BOTTOMLESS PIT stands out of the ashes of the mess that’s been made over the past two years and turns out to be one of the more quintessential Death Grips releases to date, on par with EXMILITARY and NO LOVE DEEP WEB.
On previous releases, one aspect of their group dynamic seemed to be emphasized, while the others would be pushed into the background; Burnett’s vocals dominated NO LOVE DEEP WEB, while Morin’s production work was the focus of GOVERNMENT PLATES, and nearly the entirety of NIGGAS ON THE MOON was performed by Hill on a fucking V-Drum kit. Maybe it’s the post-breakup blues, or just another calculated step, but either way, it’s pretty clear that for BOTTOMLESS PIT they decided to push everything to the max.
“Giving Bad People Good Ideas” is somehow the most pleasant of Death Grips’ album openers, starting with the title being repeated by an unknown female voice that seems to be reminiscent of The I.L.Y.’s I’VE ALWAYS BEEN GOOD AT TRUE LOVE — the Zach Hill/Andy Morin side project released via Thirdworlds last year. The track then leaps off into a wall of noise similar to JENNY DEATH’s “I Break Mirrors with my Face in the United States,” yet this time, much more refined and stripped back, laying out the sonic themes that would generally outline the record. And here might be the main drawback of BOTTOMLESS PIT (the same drawback that kept THE MONEY STORE from really hitting the mark): every track sounds pretty damn similar to the next, although to its credit, they remain dynamic enough to keep the album moving forward. In fact, so much is packed into each track that they only end up sounding similar because that wall of noise that’s presented with each track seems to be the same without closer inspection. But upon multiple listens, the only thing that seems to hold this record together is its consistency in its energy and lyrical content; “Eh,” “BB Poison,” and “Bottomless Pit” don’t really sound at all alike, but they all carry the same visceral attitude that characterizes this record. The chorus for “Ring a Bell” sounds almost like something you’d hear in the distance wandering through Coachella, yet it calls back to the chorus in “Centuries of Damn,” and carries themes consistent with the latter half of EXMILITARY, like “Thru the Walls” and “Known for it.”
It’d be ridiculous to say this record is uncharacteristic to Death Grips’ sound, when in fact they are very quantitatively pulling from their past work, blending it together, and creating something totally new out of it. BOTTOMLESS PIT comes off as most similar to THE MONEY STORE in its consistency, relentless energy, and just how damn polished it is. And while it might not age as well as their past hits, the sonic themes, the energy, and the attention to detail on BOTTOMLESS PIT let it stand out as one of the most well-realized records in Death Grips’ career.
Editor’s note: If you haven’t been following Death Grips, they are surely a divisive group — check out our feature on them from December 2015 here.