Modern hip-hop/pop group and boy band BROCKHAMPTON has survived a chaotic summer and is now back with their fourth studio album.
After releasing three full-length albums over the course of six months in 2017, “SATURATION I,” “II,” and “III,” the 14-member collective of singers, rappers, producers, web designers, photographers and instrumentalists has been dragged through a storm of soaring popularity, internal conflict and a 15 million dollar deal with RCA. Sexual and emotional abuse allegations against prominent member Ameer Vann led to his removal from the band in May of 2018, leading fans to ask: how will a group whose style is based so much on its identity as an inseparable family adapt to such a dramatic change? Vann brought a hardcore, streetwise edge to BROCKHAMPTON that wasn’t just an important part of their sound, but crucial to their identity as the first “all-American boy band”: a collective of different cultures, races, sexual orientations and backgrounds. Aside from being a massive change in their image, the controversy over Vann’s actions tore a massive emotional hole in the BROCKHAMPTON family. From bandleader Kevin Abstract’s struggle with discrimination over his sexual orientation throughout his childhood in Texas to singer/producer Joba’s ongoing battle with mental disorder, the band had no emotional stability to spare.
After releasing three energetic singles over the summer as well as a somber performance of a new single, “TONYA,” on Jimmy Fallon, the group showed no signs of deciding on a style for future material. It seemed that Vann’s departure had thrown BROCKHAMPTON into a neurotic, indecisive spiral.
BROCKHAMPTON’s fourth album, “iridescence,” is born out of this creative paranoia. The album reflects apathy and fear with numbing precision over 15 skittish, sullen tracks. In the same vein as Neil Young’s “Tonight’s The Night” and Bob Dylan’s “Blood on the Tracks,” the band’s grief drives the majority of the album’s music and structure.
While “iridescence” was a pretty difficult listen the first several times through, what seems like chaotic verse-trading, grumbling beats and melodic backing tracks distill into a comprehensive, darkly beautiful collage of BROCKHAMPTON’s current phase in their career. The band does lose the goofiness from their older work —although I wouldn’t call any track on iridescence” “fun”—but they manage to pull the misery back enough so that it doesn’t feel like a slog, but rather a brooding exploration.
“BERLIN” is a great representation of the album as a whole, a catchy yet overwhelming swarm of heavy beats and Death Grips-esque revving engines, relying mainly on Northern Irish singer/instrumentalist bearface for the hooks and powerhouse Dom McLennon for the verses. The end of the track is ferocious, with the vocals dropping out in favor of a pounding beat that’s somehow more emotional than any verse on the song. While Joba has been inconsistent in the past with his rap verses, either nailing them dead-on (e.g. “SWEET”) or thoroughly missing his mark (e.g. “1998 TRUMAN”), he seems to focus on not making any major missteps throughout the album at the expense of not delivering any golden verses, with few exceptions.
“WEIGHT” is a personal favorite and has emerged as one of the album’s gems. Abstract delivers a vulnerable confessional verse over a delicate string arrangement, going into his insecurities about his sexuality as well as dropping a line alluding to the self-harm issues of fellow band member, Ashlan Grey. With one of Joba’s more beautiful verses and a strangely sweet interlude, “WEIGHT” is a touching medium between the band’s new attitude and older style.
“DISTRICT” is phenomenal and one of the only songs that could fit smoothly alongside BROCKHAMPTON’s older work. The song adds layer after layer of hooks and verses and instrumentals, with each member one-upping the last in a frenzy that nears stream-of-consciousness with an excellent verse from Matt Champion before peaking during Joba’s exclamations of “Praise God! Hallelujah! I’m still depressed!” (which serves as a pretty excellent microcosm of the album as a whole).
“J’OUVERT” is insane. Over a whooping, stuttery beat, Joba’s verse tears down the artistic veneer around the band’s grief until he’s more or less full-throttle screaming about the betrayal he feels. The song is legitimately scary to listen to, but in a way that’s unashamed and signature BROCKHAMPTON.
“SAN MARCOS,” my favorite song on the album, feels like a sequel to “MILK,” a track from “SATURATION I,” but in a way that expands on its ideas—lyrically and musically. One of Matt Champion’s best verses melts into warm guitar arpeggios and self-aware verses from each member, ending with a subdued performance from Joba, before a sing-a-long section so warm and relieving that the darkness of the album is peeled back for an instant and you can see through to the weak but hopeful core of the band’s message. The London Community Gospel Choir lends their voices to the outro, creating the most bittersweet track on the entire record.
“TONYA,” the only previously released single included on the album, is just as good as it was on Fallon. The band abandons the speed and experimentation in a soulful, straightforward ballad about the absence of Ameer Vann.
The final track, “FABRIC,” reveals through a postlude that “iridescence” is planned to be part of another trilogy, “THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES.” While I have worries about the trilogy format as a stylistic crutch, it will be interesting to see what the band can do to make something as concise, but varied, as the SATURATION trilogy.
In all, “iridescence” struggles with the same inaccessibility that artists have in the past when they move out of a formula, but if you take the time to familiarize yourself with how the music plays out, the eponymous beauty and color of the album begins to take shape and you’ll be rewarded with a well-written, masterfully produced picture of sensitivity and uncertainty. With time, I believe “iridescence” will arrive as an honest, confessional and important step in the BROCKHAMPTON legacy.
Brendan Lordan is a second-year student majoring in English-writing. .BL895080@wcupa.edu.