Review: BROCKHAMPTON’s iridescence
Following the release of their third album and the final instalment in the Saturation trilogy in December 2017, BROCKHAMPTON blew up and I fell in love. A 15 person boy band, BROCKHAMPTON offered something new to the music scene I had never heard before. Due to their large size and wide array of talent, BROCKHAMPTON’s albums were a unique mix of fun and innovative sounds and genres. I spent countless hours during my spring semester watching interviews of lead singer Kevin Abstract talk about style and music, reading articles about the different personalities of each band member, and blasting “SWAMP” and “STUPID” in my dorm.
Although I believed BROCKHAMPTON was going to be the band of the year in 2018, in May, multiple sexual misconduct allegations against Ameer Vann forced BROCKHAMPTON to remove themselves from the spotlight. They canceled upcoming shows and announced that they would not be releasing the upcoming album they had previously announced would drop in summer 2018. Upon hearing that Ameer would no longer be part of the group, I was not only angry at him, I was also understandably worried. Although I thought that the group made the right decision in kicking him out, Ameer was the posterboy for BROCKHAMPTON’s albums and the band’s main (and best) rapper. His deep, steady voice provided many key moments in the Saturation trilogy. When BROCKHAMPTON released the summer single “1999 WILDFIRE” sans Ameer, his dark, melodic raps were noticeably absent. The nostalgic vibe gave the band a new sound that neither I nor my friends found fun or exciting.
On September 21, BROCKHAMPTON released their fourth album: iridescence (the first installment in The Best Years of Our Lives trilogy). At first, I was too nervous to listen to the album for fear of disappointment. However, I soon became annoyed with myself for letting Ameer’s absence stop me from listening to one of my favorite bands. I felt as if I was giving him too much power considering the fact that he had been kicked out of the band for abusing and manipulating multiple women. After I went to my friend’s room and heard Joba’s voice blaring through her speaker, I knew I was making a mistake in avoiding iridescence. I immediately recognized the band’s signature melody and all my doubts that Ameer’s absence would make BROCKHAMPTON lose its voice were erased. I turned around and went straight back to my room to listen in peace.
Right off the bat, BROCKHAMPTON’s staple sound shines through. After Matt Champion opens the album with the statement “Perfectly fine, thats fine--,” Dom’s loud and aggressive voice and lyrics precede the first of the album’s many catchy beats. “NEW ORLEANS” is both energizing and emotional, the perfect way to kick off the album.
The album’s second song “THUG LIFE” is soft and introspective. The jarring back to back contrast between the “THUG LIFE” and “NEW ORLEANS” is a staple BROCKHAMPTON move and really makes the album feels like a sonic rollercoaster. While one might expect a fast and rap-heavy song based off of the title, “THUG LIFE” offers a calm and nostalgic vibe. The song opens with melodic piano notes and a gospel choir. Bearface manipulates his voice in a way that makes him sound like a young and innocent kid. It is a funny and unexpected moment to listen to a little boy repeat the phrase “It’s a thug life” in a sing-song tone. All of the lyrical meat comes in Dom’s verse. In it, he states that he is his own biggest “threat” and that he struggles with depression. It feels eerie to have a dark rap sandwiched between beautiful and uplifting piano notes. Classic BROCKHAMPTON. Overall, Dom’s moody yet optimistic lyrics coupled with the chorus creates a melancholy and bittersweet mood.
Following “THUG LIFE,” “BERLIN” feels like another staple BROCKHAMPTON song that could easily have been part of the Saturation trilogy. Bearface delivers the opening line: “She said ‘Baby boy, why you looking grimy as shit?’” The beat is slow and every word of this catchy and funny lyric is clearly enunciated. The entire song is bass-heavy and exciting. It is impossible to get bored as BROCKHAMPTON utilizes so many different members and instruments to switch up the beat every few seconds. The song feels slightly unorganized and unstructured, but in a good way. In keeping with this, Joba’s fire verse and the transition into the outro are over-the-top and include a variety of energetic sounds.
A few songs later, powerful and crisp lyrics make “WEIGHT” a clear winner. Kevin Abstract starts the song off with an emotional verse. He sings about feeling like he is the “worst in the boyband” and he reminisces on his life pre-fame. He then opens up about his experience coming to terms with being attracted to men. He states, “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.” Right when this line ends, a powerful and loud voice overwhelms the song. Abstract’s voice is now amplified almost like a gospel choir. His loud voice echoes around a empty room as he sings about insecurities and acceptance. It is a powerful and chilling moment. The song then picks up as Dom and Joba share their own personal experiences. This dramatic and chaotic turn provides different members with individual platforms to express themselves on.
Another highlight on iridescence is the uplifting and sentimental “SAN MARCOS.” In it, the band talks about wanting more out of their lives and not settling for what they have. The lyrics are sentimental and the delivery is passionate. At the end of the song there is a chorus of calm yet powerful voices. It is as if BROCKHAMPTON is spreading their message and a group of young and hopeful people have joined them in their desire to continue bettering their lives. This sentimental and compelling outro makes “SAN MARCOS” my favorite song on the album.
Of course, not every song on iridescence is amazing and there are definitely weaker and unmemorable moments (“SOMETHING ABOUT HIM,” for example). In order to highlight each member’s distinct talents, the songs take dramatic turns, sometimes making me feel slightly disoriented or confused. It sometimes feels as if the music changes genre multiple times within a single song as different members bring different genres to the band. In addition, the novelty of the band’s unique mixture of genres has worn off. When I first heard Saturation, I had no idea what to expect. However, going into iridescence, because I was prepared for the quick mood changes, the album feels less exciting and innovative. They have lost an element of surprise. This could be an inevitable consequence of fame or it could be due to the fact that BROCKHAMPTON has now released four albums in the span of two years. Perhaps they are not giving themselves time to develop and grow naturally. By creating back to back albums, their music is unable to evolve.
“FABRIC” is a great closer and provides a platform for the band members to reflect on their newfound fame. The lyrics are clean and powerful and the beat is fun. This is a perfect combination for a closing song. At the very end, there is a brief pause before voices start to sing “You are now about the experience / These are the best years of our lives.” Suddenly, it feels as though the entire album is just an intro track. BROCKHAMPTON is highlighting the fact that iridescence is the first album in the band’s new trilogy. This is a comforting and exciting notion.
Although Ameer was an important piece in the Saturation trilogy, his dismissal far from ruined BROCKHAMPTON. While listening to iridescence, I never felt as if the songs were missing something or that the band was trying to cover an empty hole. Instead of simply replacing the verses originally meant for Ameer, BROCKHAMPTON embraced different voices and techniques to create a new mix of sounds. Iridescence proves that the absence of one member cannot destroy such a talented and energetic band.