BROCKHAMPTON’s latest is a mess of creativity

Monday, September 24, 2018 - 4:59pm

BROCKHAMPTON

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RCA Records

BROCKHAMPTON, the boy band at the intersection of internet hip-hop nerds and hip indie teenagers, have released their first project of the calendar year: iridescence. This project follows an immensely prolific 2017, during which they released three projects and ascended to minor stardom.

The clear strength of this album lies within the production and the arrangement. A well-done motif in the production is the contrast between organic and industrial: swelling, earthy strings juxtaposed with distorted kicks and dissonant synths, elegant piano parts undercut with frantic synthetic drum breaks, beautiful vocals lines bathed in artificial effects and vocoders; the strength of the production is found in the transient moments at the intersection of the natural and manmade. Some moments, such as the transition between “NEW ORLEANS” and “THUG LIFE,” are truly inspired. The album is overflowing with ideas, yet some of the strengths at times become flaws: the recklessness, the business, the bipolar swings in mood and energy. What makes the production so creative also threatens to throw iridescence into disarray and chaos.

Disappointingly, the vocalists are far less charismatic than any of their previous projects; there are no real quotables, and the lyrics, by leaning towards the introspective, sacrifice the irreverent humor and charisma of the Saturation trilogy. Part of BROCKHAMPTON’s appeal was that how much fun they were having shone through their work; that particular quality feels muted on this album. Joba has always been hit or miss, particularly when rapping, but it is on iridescence that this becomes painfully clear, as he has to pick up some of the slack left by Ameer Vann’s forced departure. He sets the tone for the album with a wince-inducingly corny verse on “NEW ORLEANS.” Worth noting is that his hits are still there, his part on “J’OUVERT” being one of the most memorable moments on the project. Matt Champion’s presence on the album is muted: He seems to appear less often than any other vocalist except for Bearface, and when he does it’s often forgettable.

While BROCKHAMPTON is clearly continuing to grow and develop on iridescence, some of their clichés are becoming tiresome. The autotuned falsettos are starting to become old, and most of their slow songs still use the production as a crutch for weak songwriting and uninspired harmonic structures, giving off an impression not unlike expensive ornaments on a plastic tree. What played a great role in the band’s explosion in popularity was their ability to sound unlike anyone else on the scene. But after saturating the market with four full-length projects in a little over a year, they don’t possess that same freshness.

Still, there are some great cuts: “WHERE THE CASH AT” is maybe the eeriest song off the album, a pulsing industrial beat laid over with rapidfire heavily-filtered Merlyn and Matt Champion verses, the final product having the not-unpleasant effect of boring into your head. “WEIGHT” is excellent, sonically dynamic and emotionally complex. The sappy string section and swelling chorus that open it up threaten to turn the song mawkish, but the band manages to avoid that particular pitfall, instead creating a piece that is spectral and moving. “DISTRICT” is an upbeat distorted track that locks into a neurotic groove, while the vocalists all come through with some of their best work on the album. The beat cools off in an outro containing an Isaac Brock-influenced guitar part and some robotic vocal overlays. The transition from “J’OUVERT” to “HONEY” is probably the best executed concept on iridescence (it’s a shame that the robotic hook on the latter track falls so flat). “SAN MARCOS” is “slow BROCKHAMPTON” done right — too often they fall into blandness when they attempt these sensitive songs, but something about this track feels much more purposeful and structured.

BROCKHAMPTON’s greatest triumph on iridescence is their newfound ability to weave together their aggressive and sensitive sides. The Saturation trilogy would segregate these soft, introspective works into interludes and outros while the high-energy cuts took center stage. They hinted at a growing cohesiveness on Saturation III with the mid-tempo, moody “BLEACH.” It’s only on iridescence that they’ve succeeded at forcing their disparate styles to coexist peacefully.

If you’re a big BROCKHAMPTON fan, you will either love or hate this album — if you’re into the funky, catchy songs like “GOLD” and “SWEET,” there might not be much for you on this project. If you loved aggressive cuts like “HEAT” and others of its ilk, or if you found yourself drawn to reflective, heavily-produced songs like “BLEACH,” iridescence is deserving of a close listen.