The “best boyband since One Direction” is easy to like.
As the rap game’s purveyor of unfiltered wholesome content, BROCKHAMPTON is bringing the genre to a place where artistic imperfections are encouraged, but bigotry and machismo? Less so. More importantly, 2017’s ‘SATURATION’ album trilogy charts perhaps the fastest maturation of any new artist in recent times.
Naturally, the stakes were high for ‘iridescence’ – no easy feat while a man down following the mess around rapper Ameer Vann’s expulsion in May over allegations of sexual misconduct. Perhaps we have come to expect too much from BROCKHAMPTON after three high-quality projects last year. This suspicion is only heightened by their struggle to keep up with live shows and release dates in 2018. It’s a bitter pill to swallow, but the stifled desperation of ‘iridescence’ should really come as no surprise.
On the plus side, fans’ concern over the Ameer vacuum will be in part quelled by Dom McLennon’s performances on here, pointing to a more lyrical approach from the group in lieu of Ameer’s grittier street aura. Dom is easily the album’s standout performer from the outset, with his verse on New Orleans setting an unmatchable high for the others on the track.
The album’s second track, Thug Life, is Dom’s crowning moment. A relatively sleepy two-minute affair otherwise characterized by the ever-overcooked wailings of Belfast’s own Bearface, the song is rescued by Dom’s piercing musings on the looming nature of depression. “I see the shadows inside, they ten feet tall with no eyes/They put my head in the water, it’s so beautiful under,” he raps, introspectively positing life as hell and death as heaven.
That’s not to say that the other BROCKHAMPTON members play second fiddle to Dom throughout. However, where Ameer brought a sharp finesse that sliced through the group’s slower numbers, songs like Honey, Tonya and San Marcos are likely to test listeners’ patience with overdone inconsistencies that prioritise self-gratifying sentimentalism over artistic risk.
Wistful, ‘Blond’-esque breakbeat ballad Weight is the album’s only counter-example to its faltering mushiness. Building on his storytelling prowess, de facto frontman Kevin Abstract brings ‘iridescence’ to its most vulnerable by detailing the painstaking process of discovering his sexuality: “And every time she took her bra off my dick would get soft/I thought I had a problem, kept my head inside a pillow screaming.”
Despite the obvious quality of Weight, the group’s rappers are clearly most at home on up-tempo, dystopian beats. Take the hard-hitting J’Ouvert: the track’s droning, distorted bass, constantly regenerated with laser zaps and whirring pitch-ups, are a fantastic arena for Joba’s maniacal screeches, “Couldn’t last a day inside my head/That’s why I did the drugs I did” or “Still ain’t got the fright to the fickle-minded people/I thought I knew better, I wish I knew better.”
The same is true of Merlyn Wood on Where The Cash At. The simple, higher-pitched syncopated bassline proves that when given the space, Merlyn’s large loopy persona can be utilised for more than its mere hypeman value.
Surprisingly though, the production might actually be the biggest overarching problem with ‘iridescence’. Were enough verses and unorthodoxy ever going to make up for the short shelf life of the monotonous beat on opener New Orleans? The same errors are repeated on Berlin, where the stodgy bassline actually interferes with the vocals, and on District, where a pulsy, ostentatious acid loop is awkwardly extrapolated into one long, lethargic track.
As the album progresses, what becomes abundantly clear is that the Ameer/success-shaped spotlight shone on BROCKHAMPTON has taken its toll. Insecurities that once formed relatable anti-social content have become bitter middle fingers. While complaints such as, “Fans with cameras in the bathroom, man that’s difficult” are justified, lyrics like “You hung yourself, that’s not my fault, I just supplied the rope” show evident disconnect with the cult fanbase they themselves have fostered.
To make a refrain based around “You don’t understand” the album’s closing moment was also a questionable decision, given that BROCKHAMPTON’s entire marketability rests on a personal understanding with fans.
That the majority of ‘iridesence’ is either structureless musical brutalism or self-indulgent balladry demonstrates the band’s lack of maturity in the face of their biggest test yet. Still experimenting they may be, but it just feels strange that their new ideas are already mostly relying on a fuck-you juggernaut effect or fan tribalism, rather than outright quality.
In other words, a little over 15 months since the release of ‘SATURATION’, BROCKHAMPTON’s ‘Yeezus’ moment has come way too soon.