The Return of the All-American Boyband — Brockhampton’s “iridescence”

It’s been just over a year since Brockhampton released their album “SATURATION,” but the self proclaimed “best boyband in the world” has remained an exciting and controversial fixture in the contemporary music scene. Bursting onto the scene in June of 2017, Brockhampton went on to release two sequel albums in just over six months, rounding out the trilogy of “SATURATION” projects. The group’s sound is characterized by their eclectic instrumentals and deep cast. This range is impressive, but Brockhampton’s success has always seemed to stem from their members’ chemistry and the immediate, infectious hooks they deliver on project after project. The group took their proclamation to “saturate” listeners and to the industry seriously as they toured the U.S. and put out a number of low-budget yet endearing music videos in between the “SATURATION” releases.

On March 30 of this year, the group announced a record deal with RCA records. This surprised fans and critics alike, as the group had been vocal about their independence from major labels. News would grow more surprising still as the group announced its split with longtime member Ameer Vann amid a host of sexual assault allegations against him. The band released a statement announcing Vann’s departure and their decision on May 27. It was unclear how a Brockhampton without Ameer would function, both musically and in terms of their image. Kevin Abstract (the perceived frontman of the group) had often called Ameer the “star” of the trilogy, going as far as to feature a blue Ameer on the cover of each of the “SATURATION” albums. The controversy took its toll on the boyband as they postponed and renamed their album several times while cancelling the remainder of their U.S. tour. After a summer of relative silence (with the exception of a few loose single releases), listeners were finally presented with the group’s debut commercial release, “iridescence.” Kickstarting a new artistic epoque for America’s favorite boyband, “iridescence” offers some new and exciting indications of the group’s future but fails to fully recapture the magic of the “SATURATION” trilogy.

“NEW ORLEANS” is an auspicious start to the record, with a beat that juxtaposes its heavy bass with high pitched whirring noises that make it sound like the group is recording in a dentist’s office.  Jaden Smith gives a surprise feature on the track, interjecting briefly to repeat Kevin’s hook. The opener blends seamlessly into the ballad-like “THUG LIFE” which contains Brockhampton’s signature pitched-up vocals over some serene piano flourishes. The song “BERLIN” is a bit of a mixed bag as the revving and grimy beat at the beginning of the song is a bit tiresome. However, the abrasive beat is replaced with some intimate synth chords and a verse from Dom McLennon which turn the song on its head.

“BERLIN” is emblematic of the inconsistency of “iridescence,” as the group continuously presents good ideas which are occasionally marred by an odd performance or repetitive instrumental. For example, by the time the listener has reached the droning, distorted beat of “VIVID,” they have already listened to the comparable “NEW ORLEANS,” “DISTRICT,” and “J’OUVERT.” While the songs certainly aren’t copies, Brockhampton’s producers have typically avoided what in this case feels like a slight sonic retreading.

Additionally, “iridescence” doesn’t deliver as much in the way of group chemistry, as certain members such as Joba and Merlin Wood are front and center, whereas former standouts such as Kevin, Matt Champion, and Dom turn in generally good, but not stunning, performances much of the time. This is to the detriment of the record as Joba alternates between engaging (“TAPE”) and annoying (“NEW ORLEANS”). Kevin is particularly underutilized, especially considering his vulnerable and gripping verse on the song “WEIGHT.” This song is Brockhampton firing on all cylinders: the instrumental begins with a gorgeous string passage that seamlessly evolves with the emotional peaks and troughs delivered by the vocal performances. The end of  the song is unrecognizable from its start, as Joba delivers exasperated shouts of, “pressure makes me lash back, wish I could get past that” over a tight drum pattern and some particularly moving vocal harmonies. “WEIGHT” is also such a standout because of how passionate every performance is. Every member seems to really embrace the theme of “weight” and pressure being applied to the group in their newest, most publicly scrutinized release.

Brockhampton certainly seems to have benefitted from a professional studio setting and more recording resources, as the incorporation of strings is especially welcome during a number of vocal interludes and brief motifs such as that of “LOOPHOLE.” The tracks “TAPE” and “TONYA” also make excellent use of Brockhampton’s new resources, as the strings give more potency to personal moments on both.

Fans of Brockhampton will find plenty to enjoy on their latest release, as “iridescence” presents a new boyband with a couple songs that stand among the best in their discography. The album as a whole, however,  exposes some chinks in the group’s armor due to an occasional lack of chemistry and some instrumental repetition. Despite its flaws, “iridescence” occupies a unique spot in the roster of this year’s releases. With the album going number one on the billboard charts this week, it certainly seems that Brockhampton is poised for future success. Only time will tell if they can deliver.

 

Image courtesy of wikipedia.org

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