“When somebody throws you in the fire/ How do you survive?” asks Dom Mclennon on Brockhampton’s newest album, “GINGER.” Since the departure of former bandmember Ameer Vann amidst allegations of sexual assault, the Los Angeles-based collective and self-proclaimed boyband Brockhampton have publicly wrestled with the implications of this question. Many fans thought their follow-up to 2017’s SATURATION trilogy of albums, “Iridescence,” would hold the answers. While the album presented a number of bright ideas and compelling moments, many tracks felt confused, cluttered, or else just lacked the infectious pull of the SATURATION records. After a year-long hiatus, seemingly a lifetime for the group that released three albums in seven months, Brockhampton is back with “GINGER,” an album that doles out catchy tunes and poignant meditations on friendship and betrayal in equal proportion. On this most recent effort, the group integrates new production decisions far more successfully than on “Iridescence” while retaining the quirky and playful elements that brought the group so much acclaim on “SATURATION.” Brockhampton is back.
The album opens with the track “NO HALO,” easily one of the group’s most pop-friendly cuts to date. Guest vocalist Dev Never delivers an ethereal hook over a mellow instrumental washed in acoustic guitar. Merlin turns in one of his standout performances here, as subtle effects color a rare, sung vocal performance. “SUGAR” is a sun-drenched, lovesick song with an earworm hook from the increasingly frequent Brockhampton contributor Ryan Beatty. The sweet guitar chords are complemented by Bearface’s refrain “Love you right.” Despite the lyrical repetition, the vocals are layered differently throughout, producing a choral effect that prevents the refrain from growing stale.
After just the first two songs, it is clear that Brockhampton are far more comfortable integrating some of the newer, high-gloss, and high-budget sounds into their music than they were on “Iridescence.” The track “GINGER” is another shining example of this, featuring a beat which is equal parts melancholic and danceable. The synths and percussion, combined with Kevin Abstract’s subdued and moody hook, make “GINGER” unlike any other Brockhampton track to date. Matt Champion shines on the first verse as serene vocal harmonies float in and out of the mix. Just when the instrumentals seem at the point of fading away, Bearface surfaces and contributes a chorus of distorted vocals that provide an excellent compliment to the instrumental’s melody.
Tracks like “BOY BYE” are typical Brockhampton, as Dom Mclennon delivers a playful verse over zany plucked strings. “ST. PERCY” is a nice change of pace from the dreamier pop tunes, as distorted bass and extraterrestrial sound effects offer one of the album’s grittier moments, especially when Merlin joins the track with repeated exclamations of, “Murder man, murder man.” While certainly one of the more energetic moments on the record, “ST. PERCY” is ultimately light and retains the goofy aspect of Brockhampton’s playful cuts. Just as the group have rekindled their whimsy and charm, they are as earnest and introspective as ever. “DEARLY DEPARTED” acts as the emotional fulcrum of the album and an especially poignant moment of catharsis and self-examination for the band. Kevin and Matt both deliver melancholic verses about neglect, friendship, and vulnerability, but the track’s coup de grace is Dom Mclennon’s verse. Here, his delivery is raw and passionate, as he confronts the now dismissed member of Brockhampton, Ameer Vann, saying, “Pass the weight off to your friends and never face the truth/ Because you never learned how to be a man/ And it’s not my fault, and it’s not my problem anymore/ That’s just where you stand/ That’s just who you are/ That’s your cross to bear.” While the tracks leading up to this moment were a welcome return to form, “DEARLY DEPARTED” feels like the band performing a self-exorcism, as the track ends with the sounds of a falling microphone and broken headphones. The magnitude of the song’s subject matter is matched by the sound of Bearface’s signature, melodramatic electric guitar flourishes echoing and refracting across the cavernous mix.
The album’s second half, however, presents some minor hiccups, first with the song “I BEEN BORN AGAIN.” While the track sports a bouncy instrumental, it suffers from a lack of song structure or coherent direction. Matt Champion’s refrain at the end would have served as an excellent hook, but its immediacy is wasted as a footnote in the track’s closing moments. The track “BIG BOY” presents a pouty, moaning hook from Kevin which is closer to irritating than experimental. Fortunately, the album regains focus on the last two tracks. “LOVE ME FOR LIFE” begins with a relatively conventional beat, but the crescendo of glossy harps and what sounds like a kazoo make the track’s closing moments an instrumental highlight on the record. After a confused, if earnest, effort on “Iridescence,” it was unclear how Brockhampton would respond, if at all. Fortunately, “GINGER” is the product of a group with newly endowed confidence, maturity, and an even deeper array of sounds and production techniques to match. “GINGER” isn’t a perfect album, but it deserves to stand alongside the “SATURATION” records as one of the group’s best. Longtime fans will find plenty to love in tracks like “ST. PERCY” and “BOY BYE” while those for whom the band never quite clicked may enjoy tracks such as “NO HALO” and “GINGER.” Presenting an experience which is equal parts tragic and carefree, Brockhampton’s “GINGER” marks a new era and a promising step forward for America’s favorite boy band.
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