‘GINGER’ is BROCKHAMPTON’s musical palate cleanser

Monday, September 2, 2019 - 4:35pm

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RCA (Question Everything)

BROCKHAMPTON has been in turmoil since former vocalist Ameer Vann’s departure from the group in May 2018. Kevin Abstract has been the most public in wrangling his emotions: From melancholic voicemails cryptically released on his website to running on a treadmill for 10 hours on livestream in front of his childhood home, his feelings have been palpable.

All the turmoil, public and private, has coalesced in BROCKHAMPTON’s most off-your-chest album. In an interview with GQ, Abstract explained, “Something were doing is putting those type of lyrics — like this shit is trash, anxiety, depression, all that stuff — taking those type of lyrics and putting it on a song that a bunch of people could dance to or something.” That speaks to the album’s sound as a whole: The lyrics are rarely anything but burnt-out or bittersweet. The concept comes to life very clearly on tracks like the single “BOY BYE,” where the boys speak on depression and trauma with the slickest flows over a vibrant beat.

Interestingly, the band explained during an interview with Beats 1 Radio that they recorded over 100 songs for the album and just picked their favorites. But that’s not what it sounds like in the music — in fact, GINGER is more thematically coherent than any previous BROCKHAMPTON project. The band’s simultaneous distress and confidence is perfectly encapsulated over the course of the album.

The boy band known for starting their albums with intense bangers subverted expectations with opening track “NO HALO,” a beautiful but subdued track filled with depression, despair and hopelessness. The second track, “SUGAR,” is as sweet-sounding as its title suggests. It’s similarly subdued but packed with smooth verses and vocal harmonies for a feeling of warm nostalgia. Ryan Beatty, a frequent BROCKHAMPTON collaborator, makes the track with his soulful contributions on the hook. It’s an Usher-like mid-2000s R&B revival, and may be one of the band’s best songs yet.

Faith as a way to cope with struggle is an overt theme throughout the album. The whole band has upped their writing game with in-your-face downtrodden lyrics like, “And we all out lookin’ for, lookin’ for God so we never see it in ourself” from Dom on “SUGAR.” Pent-up frustration from the band peaks on “DEARLY DEPARTED,” filled with lyrical mourning, prayer and cries for help. It’s the most emotionally charged track on the record in which the boys speak openly about ex-member Ameer Vann. After following the situation and seeing the public fallout, I felt my own heart sink when Kevin sang, “What’s the point of havin’ a best friend if you end up losin’ him?” Dom McLennon, most infamous for his anger towards Ameer, ends the track with fury screaming “You could talk to God / I don’t wanna hear, motherfucker” before dropping the mic.

While BROCKHAMPTON has a track record for hardcore hits, their slappers in GINGER don't land nearly as well as their softer-sounding songs. The synths in the beginning of “ST. PERCY” is reminiscent of the iconic opening track to SATURATION, “HEAT,” and makes me want to listen to that instead. “I BEEN BORN AGAIN” is a fun track — it’s exciting in the context of the band’s “rebirth” and new direction, uniting all six vocalists — it’s just a little all over the place, like many tracks on their previous album iridescence.

There are also a few stumblesat the end of GINGER. Joba, who has upped his game all across the record, delivers one of his strongest performances ever on the eerie and ghostly “BIG BOY,” but the rest of the song doesn’t hold up. The mellow, repetitive deliveries from Kevin and Joba get stale very quickly on “LOVE ME FOR LIFE” despite the interesting and unique instrumental. The album still manages to finish strong with “VICTOR ROBERTS,” on which BROCKHAMPTON-affiliate and first-time vocalist Victor Roberts tells a heart-wrenching story of his troubled family upbringing. The song is a perfect closer for an album in which emotionally driven lyricism is at the forefront.

GINGER, like the album’s namesake, is a palate cleanser for BROCKHAMPTON. It’s a step forward for the band as they’ve struggled to find the footing they had with their music in 2017. This is the album they needed to make: A controlled expression of depression, a fresh encapsulation of distress. Some tracks don’t land as well as others, but even within those, the impeccable and dark songwriting still shines. They’re overcoming the trials they’ve faced as a band and making it clear that the BROCKHAMPTON boys are here to stay.