The beloved, self-proclaimed boyband returns with a new sound.
The six-performing-member rap collective BROCKHAMPTON skyrocketed in popularity after last year’s “SATURATION Trilogy,” a collection of three albums titled “SATURATION,” “SATURATION II” and “SATURATION III” released over the course of 2017. This wasn’t the self-proclaimed boyband’s first venture into the music industry (that was 2015’s single “DIRT” followed by 2016’s mixtape “ALL-AMERICAN TRASH”), but the trilogy really placed them on the map for their progressive lyricism, eclectic membership and expert production.
“Iridescence” (stylized in all lowercase, a contrast to their typical caps-lock aesthetic) is the group’s fourth album, the first lacking a core member (Ameer Vann was booted from the band after sexual assault allegations) and most fans, myself included, are just glad it came at all. Just after “SATURATION III,” another album, “TEAM EFFORT,” was announced and subsequently pushed back before complete radio silence.
Following a deal with RCA Records, this fourth record was renamed “PUPPY” and set for a summer release date. Suddenly, following the Ameer Vann allegations and subsequent cessation of their North American tour, the album was cancelled. The album, presumably complete as it was near release, will forever be known as the “lost BROCKHAMPTON album.” Over 10 minutes of it exist as snippets that fans recorded from frontman Kevin Abstract’s Instagram live-streams.
The first public appearance and new music following Vann’s departure was the song “TONYA” as performed on “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.” It appears as the penultimate track on “iridescence” and stands as a gut-chilling testament to sorrow, doubt and regret.
“My life is ‘I, Tonya,’” raps Abstract in his verse on the track, reflecting both the song’s namesake — the film “I, Tonya,” a dramedic biopic of figure skater Tonya Harding, who ruined her career after getting involved in a plot to break a competitor’s legs — as well as the dramatic fall from grace the whole group felt following the Vann allegations. One could look at all the verses on the record and wonder just how many relate to Vann, but I won’t undertake such a project.
Over the summer, the group released three new tracks through their Beats 1 radio station “Things We Lost in the Fire.” The singles, which surprised me by not being on “iridescence,” were titled “1999 WILDFIRE,” “1998 TRUMAN” and “1997 DIANA” and released in that order. Their unabashed darkness and spunk foreshadowed the tracks that would comprise “iridescence.”
“Iridescence,” released September 21, 2018, is in short a ridiculously well-produced (if a somewhat uneven) record that clocks in at just under 50 minutes. The opener “NEW ORLEANS” starts things off strong and fast with a pounding beat and some intensely spat vocals from member Dom McClennon. The track continues in its rage, not stopping even when member Bearface, who usually slows things down with his electric guitar and boyband-esque vocals, surprised everyone by sort of pseudo-rapping along in the song’s bridge.
After a final rendering of the chorus from feature Jaden Smith, the track ends by drifting straight into the second song, “THUG LIFE,” a track immediately indicative of the album’s unevenness. It’s soft, balladic and ends with a drawn-out and personal spoken-word line that doesn’t necessarily have to feel out of place after the raging opener — indeed, I think juxtapositions like that can be quite effective — but such personal digression is just not earned at this point of the record. The listener, who’s been hyped for the record by the first track, is allowed to drift back down a little. Not something you want by the second track. This is something of an omen for the rest of the album’s progression.
There’s nothing particularly wrong with any of the tracks (except for the autotuned annoyance of “SOMETHING ABOUT HIM”) but the way in which they’re constructed and allowed to flow together makes for a listening experience that might be better on shuffle.
If anything, the album is full of highlights, such as “WHERE THE CASH AT,” “WEIGHT” and the aggressive “J’OUVERT,” which features a practically screamed verse from member Joba that figures to be one of my favorite verses from any member of the group in any track.
Perhaps my biggest complaint with the record is the under-utilization of certain members. Whereas I think that the “SATURATION” trilogy didn’t feature enough Joba, he feels well-represented in “iridescence” but perhaps at the expense of some other members. For example, I can’t remember a single verse from member Matt Champion off-hand. I seriously can’t. Is this a reflection on my memory or the songs on which he was included?
Another seemingly absent member is fan-favorite Merlyn Wood, with the exception of “WHERE THE CASH AT,” a track which, when trying to think of what I could compare it to the night before writing this review, kept reminding me of the satisfaction one gets in hearing a bunch of darts driven into a dartboard across the room. There’s just something satisfying about the “thump” in the track.
This record is bound to disappoint some fans because, in short, it’s not “SATURATION IV.” BROCKHAMPTON sounds different. They’re minus a member and their sound reflects that, and our long wait for the emotional, electrifying response album hasn’t quite paid off because, while BROCKHAMPTON clearly has something to say, they’re stumbling a bit in saying it.
The original “SATURATION” albums took me some time to get into, so there’s no telling if “iridescence” won’t take the same repeated exposure. At first listen, though, it’s a technically impressive record that feels lacking in organization and direction.