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Mr. Tophat - Dusk to Dawn Music Album Reviews

The Swedish producer and frequent Robyn collaborator offers an ambitious three-album suite of understated, occasionally disquieting techno nocturnes.
Hardcore Robyn fans already know the work of Swedish producer Rudolf Nordström, aka Mr. Tophat. He co-produced “Baby Forgive Me” and “Beach2k20,” two of the gorgeous, gently filtered house-pop tracks from last year’s Honey; his own 2017 release Trust Me, a three-song, 35-minute EP of throbbing, desaturated grooves, featured Robyn throughout. His latest solo release, Dusk to Dawn, is an ambitious three-album suite of understated, occasionally disquieting techno nocturnes. More melodic than the distortion-warped A Memoir From the Youth, two and a half hours of mostly chill, mid-tempo house conceal interesting moments within slack expanses. At its best, it’s a triple-album endurance listen that rewards partial concentration; at its slowest, it’s an illustration that Tophat’s signature long-format tracks don’t scale.

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Death Grips - Year of the Snitch Music Album Reviews

Death Grips - Year of the Snitch Music Album Reviews
The prolific noise rap project drills down on their sonic signature and remains politically agnostic and persistently agitated.

In the process of trying to sabotage their career at every turn, Death Grips became career artists. Regardless of how you classify their prolific output thus far, the noise-rap art project has averaged one album per year, with enough variation and quality control to make their “will they or won’t they break up” shtick background noise. They’re industrious, downright reliable, even. So on their 10th release in seven years, Year of the Snitch, Death Grips stay politically agnostic, persistently agitated—in a word, noided. It’s kinda quaint. Maybe even comforting.

Year of the Snitch makes it easier to see how their essence may have leached into today’s serrated musical landscape. The convergence of nu-metal and SoundCloud rap might’ve happened anyway—same with the bonkers, jump-cutting metalcore of bands like Code Orange and Vein—but it’s possible to hear their groundbreaking 2012 album The Money Store as a soft launch for what was to come—a context to understand the kind of heavy music either associated with high-intensity CrossFit or Mountain Dew-fueled eSports.

Even still, Death Grips’ sonic signature is so completely their own that it can’t be evoked with anything short of parody. It proves to be very adaptable to an increasingly diffuse number of sounds on Year of the Snitch. Mid-’90s drum ‘n’ bass beats with shoegaze guitars? “Death Grips is Online” will certainly try to create a “Dreamcast Teenage Riot.” “What if Death Grips went rockabilly?” is a question nobody was probably asking, but god bless “Disappointed” for giving us the answer. Is “Streaky” MC Ride’s stab at trap-rap or a strip club anthem? It’s hard to tell from its actual lyrics, but when the album threatens total abstraction, that’s where a drummer as expressive and destructive as Zach Hill grounds the sound into something resembling a band playing a song.

As far as what Death Grips actually have to say this time around, “Linda’s in Custody” refers to Linda Kasabian, a Manson Family member-turned-key witness for their prosecution. She turned 69 on June 21, the day that Year of the Snitch leaked. I don’t know if that was Death Grips’ intent, but at least one of their conspiracy-prone fans seems to think so on Genius. If referencing such annotations seems like an unforgivable faux pas, I would argue that it’s borderline critical malpractice to look at any Death Grips album without considering how their fans will interact with it. Acknowledging that the project’s entire existence has been an elaboration on deep internet culture is a starting point for the conversation: What Lil Pump is to SoundCloud, what Car Seat Headrest is to Bandcamp, Death Grips are to 4chan. I mean, the title of “Death Grips is Online” is a reference to one of their most viral tweets—not even Kanye’s done that yet.

MC Ride’s extremely rare expressions of legible emotion—“I require privacy,” or, “This is a brand/Not your boy”—are seemingly at odds with Death Grips being firmly within the realm of fan service. Was there any point of them even making a video for “Shitshow” if it wasn’t going to get banned from YouTube for violating its decency standards? Their use of filmmaker Andrew Adamson’s voice for a spoken word interlude on “Dilemma” feels reverse engineered to grab “Death Grips Worked With the Director of Shrek” headlines. Good luck trying to spot Tool bassist Justin Chancellor’s contributions without the credits, but you could say that Death Grips linked up with maybe the only band that gets more love on the deep web than they do. The most notable contribution on the album comes from DJ Swamp, a champion turntablist who once toured with Beck and Ministry, who scatters his production throughout.

Entertain the possibility that Shrek, Tool, and Beck fans might use all of the above as entry points to Death Grips, and Year of the Snitch could be viewed as their most extroverted album yet. More likely, they all showed up in large part simply for the appeal of the volatile experimentation the name Death Grips carries: violence, noise, stoned humor, surrealism. Of course, like every Death Grips album, Year of the Snitch is about 10 minutes too long. Much like 2016’s Bottomless Pit, this album isn’t a significantly weaker work than The Money Store or NO LOVE DEEP WEB, but as with everything Death Grips, context matters. “I’ve Seen Footage” and “Hacker” were relative pop songs, and their previous album covers and stunts were not significantly more shitposty than what they’re up to now. But those things came about when Death Grips were shockingly close to being a mainstream concern, a targeted Molotov cocktail compared to Year of the Snitch, an M-80 blown up in an empty clearing—explosive, fun as hell, but lacking a clear target to give it meaning.

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