The Sideline Observer

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Beautifully Abrasive: Brockhampton’s iridescence

Over a year after their 2016 debut project, All American Trash, Brockhampton found themselves thrust into the limelight with 2017’s Saturation trilogy. Upon release, critics and fans alike gravitated towards the self-proclaimed boy band’s diverse production, emotionally raw lyrics, and bevy of talent.

Within six months, the California-based collective transformed itself from a relatively unknown group of musicians who met online into one of hip-hop’s most popular acts.

Shockingly, Brockhampton’s momentum halted in January of this year when rapper and Saturation cover art model, Ameer Vann, was removed from the group following revelations about his domestic abuse. This news came weeks before their upcoming album PUPPY was set to release, forcing the group to scrap the project altogether and cancel their remaining tour dates.

Despite the tumultuous position in which Brockhampton found themselves, they signed a $15 million record deal with RCA and promptly announced their next album.

Released on September 20th, iridescence is a 15 track, 48-minute odyssey away from the traditional pop and hip hop sounds that appeared on the Saturation trilogy. Rather than lean into the sounds that made the group popular, Brockhampton ambitiously forgo the familiar and the marketable in one of the most experimental and noisy projects released this year; a risk that pays dividends.

At its core, iridescence is a genre-bending meditation on insecurity, depression, and existential crisis within the context of the group’s newfound success. From start to finish, the group sprints through a minefield of their own demons, addressing each issue in graphic detail. The brutal honesty that endeared Brockhampton to fans during the Saturation trilogy is turned up to a deafening level on iridescence.

Sonically, Brockhampton delivers a mixed bag of grime, indie rock, noise music, and hip hop; a combination that keeps the album entertaining, but occasionally feels aimless and disjointed. Brockhampton’s characteristically dense production and evolving song structures undoubtedly produce soaring highs, but can sometimes overcomplicate and fracture sections of the project.

If iridescence makes one thing clear, it’s that Brockhampton has no shortage of creativity and ambition; their success is just a matter of being able to consistently blend their ideas seamlessly.

Iridescence is at its strongest when Brockhampton can tightrope the thin line between tastefully complex and compositionally cluttered. A standout example is the lead single, “TONYA,” featuring gorgeous vocal passages from Ryan Beatty and Joba, as well as a rare moment of vulnerable introspection from Bearface.

Lyrically, Dom Mclennon, Merlyn, and Kevin Abstract maneuver three of the most heartfelt moments on the project; offering a glimpse into the struggle of adjusting to life after a meteoric rise to stardom. From a production standpoint, “TONYA” is a potent blend of driving piano chords, pulsating string melodies, and distorted drums. Romil’s scrupulous attention to detail throughout the instrumental’s twists and turns help make “TONYA” one of the best songs in Brockhampton’s discography.

Another shining example of Brockhampton’s creative capability is the song “WEIGHT.” With echoes of  “BLEACH” from Saturation III, “WEIGHT” flows smoothly through four different but equally satisfying sections. The instrumental evolves from an uplifting string section to a spastic percussion breakdown, to a dizzying boom-bap instrumental, to a pristine soundscape, all without fragmenting or overcomplicating the song.

Beyond the instrumental, each member delivers a stellar performance. Kevin Abstract’s gut-wrenching verse about the graphic details of his struggle with identity and sexuality is unquestionably a defining moment, and Joba’s vocal contributions are some of his best work to date.

With iridescence, Brockhampton appears to settle into a distinct sound and identity as a group. Albeit sparing, their artistic growth hasn’t come without some growing pains. While most of the tracklist plays to Brockhampton’s creative strengths, tracks like “WHERE THE CASH AT” feel stagnant and uninspired.

Rather than push the creative envelope, “WHERE THE CASH AT” fails to explore any further than one noisy instrumental. The beat isn’t inherently obnoxious on its own, but becomes grating to listen to after about a minute without changing.

Vocally, Merlyn’s verse on “WHERE THE CASH AT” is energetic but lacks progression. His signature yelling delivery doesn’t quite match the glitchy grime beat and the song falls flat as a result. Throughout much of the album Merlyn’s performances and verses fail to live up to the standards he set for himself in the Saturation trilogy. He still managed to contribute positively to the project but was featured noticeably less than he had been in the past.

Fueled by limitless creative potential and elevated by attention to detail, iridescence is Brockhampton’s best work thus far. By blending unique sounds and genres, Brockhampton carves out a lane for themselves in experimental hip-hop, and appear eager to prove that they’re capable of making great music without Ameer.

With two more albums scheduled to release in the coming months, I anticipate another stellar year for the fourteen-member boy band from California.

8.6/10

-Andrew Gonzales

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