If ever a review cried out to be written in one long stream-of-consciousness ALL CAPS rant with complete disregard for punctuation (except for copious question and exclamation marks), this would be it. It would perfectly reflect Year of the Snitch’s apparently couldn’t-care-less, tossed-off, throw-everything-at-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks creative approach.

The eighth full length release (in as many years) by Sacramento, CA experimental noise-rap crew Death Grips is, at least upon first listen, the most difficult album in a discography populated almost exclusively by “difficult” albums. Across Year of the Snitch’s thirteen tracks, Zach Hill, Andy Morin and Stefan “MC Ride” Burnett draw on sounds from their past work, chuck it all in a blender with an unhealthy dose of goofy, carnivalesque, funhouse organ and deeply dated turntablism courtesy of DJ Splash, unidentifiable bass work by Justin Chancellor of Tool, and a bizarro, Kiwi-accented spoken word intro from the director of Shrek, and proceed to throw handfuls of the unsightly mixture at their listeners.

If that sounds as terrible to you as that hideously off-putting album cover looks, then you’re probably not a Death Grips fan, nor will you ever be. But then, longtime fans will likely also be puzzled upon their first runthrough. When ‘Death Grips Is Online’ roars in with jet-engine, shoegaze guitars, a beat that could have been lifted off Outkast’s ‘B.O.B.’, and a general vibe that could be deemed to be, erm, happy, you might find yourself checking to make sure you put on the right album. The pizzicato midi strings that enter the fray, climbing up and down the scale, are similarly jaunty. To set minds to rest, MC Ride finally announces himself with the instantly meme-able phrase, “Doing handstands on the Trans Am.” From there he finds his vocals curiously buried in a mix that’s considerably muddier than the relatively polished, hard-hitting clarity that characterised 2016’s Bottomless Pit. Sound-wise, the precedent for Year of the Snitch’s deliberate low fidelity aesthetic (and its scattershot structure) lies in that curio of a release that was the ‘Steroids (Crouching Tiger Hidden Gabber Megamix)’ of last year. The next time the chorus guitars kick in they’re joined by the eager, channel-hopping, vinyl scratching of erstwhile 90s-era Beck tourmate, DJ Splash. Death Grips may be online, but, given the sonic touchstones, you’d be excused for thinking you’ve been transported to the early days of the Internet, circa 1995. Oh hi, Netscape!

Nevertheless, it’s a bold opener that demonstrates the group’s willingness to find new, potentially hazardous avenues down which to lead their sound. You might not be sure if you like it or not, but it’s certainly interesting. Frustratingly, this adventurous spirit comes and goes across the course of the record. ‘Flies’ and ‘Linda’s Got Custody ’ whilst not devoid of quality components, have a distinct air of the band’s Government Plates/N***** On The Moon-era flirtations with the compositional techniques of electronic dance music (and suffer a little from excessive repetition as a result), whilst lead single ‘Streaky’ leans heavily on its admittedly sticky hook, but doesn’t offer much in the way of progression, coming off as a lesser version of a track like ‘Eh,’ off Bottomless Pit.

A guitar-driven track like ‘Black Paint,’ as thrilling as it is, is very much in line with similar workouts on Jenny Death, whilst the opening of ‘Hahaha’ deliberately recalls the cartoonish, revving synths of what is still the quintessential Death Grips song, ‘Inanimate Sensation,’ off the same album. But ‘Hahaha’ goes on to establish itself as its own beast, with mournful synth parts serving as powerful contrast to Ride’s agitated mumbling and Hill’s lopsided beat, as well as a particularly cool-sounding pre-chorus that leads into Ride sarcastically yelling the titular laugh over genuinely triumphant guitars. Two instrumental tracks - ‘The Horn Section’ and not-the-actual-outro, ‘Outro’ - do little beyond fill time and serve as a showcase for Zach Hill’s considerable drumming chops. They would have stood out as the more fleshed out compositions on Fashion Week or Interview 2016, but within the context of a proper album, they suffer by dint of comparison.

It’s on the remaining tracks that Year of the Snitch truly earns its stripes. ‘Shitshow’ is a short, sharp burst of unbridled, aggressive energy, unmatched in their discography, that manages to combine the speed and ferocity of grindcore with synths that pour elegiacally like Blade Runner’s tears in rain. ‘Little Richard’ sounds like Kraftwerk with ADD, or Devo, if they had a song about dicks (on second thought, they probably do), and, despite that description it acts as the straight man sitting between two of the oddest songs Death Grips have ever put on record. That aforementioned introduction by Shrek director, Adam Adamson, sets the scene of Death Grips facing the first song's titular dilemma. You'll be scratching your head wondering if this is all an elaborate reference to the “Shrek Grips” meme that circulated a few years ago. That is until that oscillating synth line comes in and Death Grips launch into what sounds like a throwback to 60s/70s psychedelia, with all the blissed out beauty one would associate with that. Except, you know, with MC Ride bellowing about manic falcons and Shasta Mountain all over it, and a stuttering, expletive-laden beatdown of a chorus. It’s an unmitigated thrill to hear Death Grips doing something so removed from their usual wheelhouse.

But if you thought that one was a headscratcher, wait til you get a load of ‘The Fear.’ Prominently featuring the circus organ that has already cropped up on several previous songs across Snitch, ‘The Fear’ could be a collaboration between BADBADNOTGOOD and Mr Bungle, combining as it does the brooding jazziness of the former with the demented, hyper-creative, genius-level, goofiness of the latter. I’ve seen it described as Jazz Grips, but really ‘The Fear’ is an aural approximation of being chased through a funhouse hall of mirrors by Pennywise himself. An examination of the lyrics reveals a troubling portrait of Stefan Burnett’s psyche: competing voices implore him to jump, whilst the chorus hinges on a disturbing call-and-response of:

"I feel so sick today (I'm afraid to be here with you)
You wanna kill somebody (I'm afraid to be here with you)"

It’s the most plainspoken expression of mental health troubles that Ride has put out since the harrowing suicide fantasy of ‘On GP’ off Jenny Death, and it serves as the emotional centre of an album that's guilty of self-indulgently spending its time distractedly jumping from one idea to the next with gleeful abandon. "Death Grips is Online" is the operative phrase: at times, Year of the Snitch elicits the same anxiety-ridden feeling as having two dozen browser windows open at the same time. In its sensory overload, its embrace of ugliness and beauty, of chaos and calm, of proficiency and slackness, and its willingness to by turns troll and impress the listener, it reflects the complicated, frustrating nature of the Internet in 2018.

On the album’s closing track (which purposefully sits apart from the rest of the album by appearing after the so-called ‘Outro’), Death Grips predict their own fan base’s reaction to their new album. Over a typically manic instrumental, a programmed voice provides a mocking chorus of “wah wah wah wah wah wah wah, disappointed!” And yet, on the breathlessly exhilarating verses, stereopanned, dual MC Rides trade syllables of R-rated Dr Seuss-esque nonsense poetry in a manner reminiscent of Mike Patton, before the group enact the greatest moment of fan service imaginable: having Ride scream “Whhhhhyyy ME!!” over a breakdown heavy enough to level buildings to the ground. That’s the Death Grips MO: troll and impress.