BROCKHAMPTON are a group defined by biography and mythology, by their online origins, and by their commitment to a shared aesthetic and brand identity. Their insistence on referring to themselves as a boyband is part and parcel of this obfuscation — much like the studio suits’ cherry-picked quiffs of the ‘90s, or the audience fingered Frankensteins of the ‘00s, BROCKHAMPTON were squeezed into the shape of a musical collective, albeit via a poll posted in a Kanye West forum by de facto band leader Kevin Abstract. Match this with the release strategy that saw them drop the Saturation trilogy all within one year, as well as the knowingly overstated characteristics of each member, and at the tail end of 2017 it seemed like BROCKHAMPTON were poised to takeover; to truly become the first postmodern boyband.
However, it was this emphasis on each vocalist’s profile that led the group into troubled water earlier this year when sexual misconduct allegations against Ameer Vann began mounting. With Vann’s face plastered across three of the group’s four albums, and doubts surrounding the band’s awareness of these claims prior to their public release, the group's position as charismatic outsiders suddenly conveyed something more sinister. After kicking Vann and shelving the highly-anticipated PUPPY, the group seemed on the cusp of either collapse or evolution. How else can a collective respond to the degradation of its cornerstone?
Of the four singles released in the interim period, it’s telling that the only one to make it onto this latest record, iridescence, is ‘TONYA’, the heartfelt missive performed on the group’s late night TV debut. As the start of a new purported trilogy, iridescence not only needed to serve as a clean slate aurally, but in terms of the group’s marred social politics — after all, BROCKHAMPTON’s currency was in part cashed on the forward-thinking rhetoric espoused in their lyrics. Accordingly ‘TONYA’ finds BROCKHAMPTON baring the extent of the betrayal — both Vann’s and their own — threading a communal narrative between their extensive cast based on half-heard lies and difficult to digest truths. Though the track clips through the slick beat changes fans have come to expect, the tone isn’t just gloomy; it’s devastating.
Whether you view this emotional outburst as sincere or calculated probably rests on how much you value their brand of raucous R&B-infused hip-hop, and whether you tar Kevin Abstract et al with Vann’s brush. Fortunately, iridescence does strong work to remind everyone just why their output last year became increasingly unavoidable. Accordingly album opener ‘NEW ORLEANS’ cuts in abruptly —- after a telling assurance by Matt Champion: ‘...perfectly fine, that’s fine!’ - bristling with a heaving vigour that asserts the conspicuous hole in BROCKHAMPTON’s line-up hasn’t impacted their ability to craft simplistic kick drum-driven floor knockers. Sure, there’s a subtle feature from Jaden Smith on the hook, but, for the most part, this is the same gang of exuberant blue faced boys that blew up last year.
After reaffirming their position as the pre-eminent progressive party curators during the first act of iridescence, BROCKHAMPTON swiftly set to work deconstructing the sonic palette that launched them into the public consciousness. The brisk ‘WHERE THE CASH AT’ feels directly influenced by UK bass music, its heaving central synth occasionally giving way for skittering drum peels and pitched down queasy vocal snippets. It’s on album high point, ‘WEIGHT’, however, that BROCKHAMPTON come closest to creating a cohesive odyssey, beginning with the subtle swell of an orchestra backing Kevin Abstract as he lays bare the group’s rapid rise to fame and the ensuing issues provoked. In a moment of pure catharsis, the track breaks into a liquid drum and bass backing — the first of several beat shifts that successfully maintain a whirring melancholy throughout the track — yet further exemplifying the group’s incorporation of sounds typical of the UK.
Much has been made of BROCKHAMPTON’s claim that this record was recorded over just ten days at Abbey Road in London, a claim that affords iridescence a certain degree of lag, and alleviating some of the pressure no doubt felt in following up the Saturation trilogy. In truth though, during its final third iridescence frequently falls flat, with even the studio version of ‘TONYA’ suffering from rounding off the raw edges of the live rendition. It’s ‘SAN MARCOS’ that feels the most misjudged though, a remarkably bland track centred on a hook by perennial sadboy bearface, backed by a cloyingly trite acoustic guitar. In its utilisation of a string section and the London Community Gospel Choir it further develops the album’s notion of experimentation, whilst somehow remaining completely lifeless.
More often than not though, iridescence lands the shots it takes, thanks, in part, to the maturation of its remaining members. If Vann functioned as the face of the Saturation trilogy, iridescence repositions Joba as the group’s ace in the hole. Whether it’s his staccato enunciation on ‘NEW ORLEANS’, or his lightly lilting flow on ‘BERLIN’, Joba’s scatty mania is a polar pole away from the flat sardonic tone cut by Vann. Somehow Joba makes such brash affectation charming, his continually switching gears encapsulating the chaotic vicissitude at the core of BROCKHAMPTON’s work. He’s both bearface and Merlyn; both overly emotive crooner and hard-edged belter, and iridescence sees the group more than happy for him to step fully into the limelight.
Countless editorials have been written surmising BROCKHAMPTON’s journey from isolated bedroom producers to genre-spanning cult, but at their core BROCKHAMPTON have always been premised on the incorporation of personalities from outside of the mainstream into popular forms of music. On iridescence they provide a timely, albeit scattered reminder of their musical chops, whilst establishing just what each member represents for the group (even if that’s just by omission). Thanks to the binding glue of their tumultuous journey over the past six months, even as iridescence find the group growing in new directions, it always feels honest.
Released September 21, 2018