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BROCKHAMPTON - iridescence Music Album Reviews

The group’s fourth record is a pummeling collection of mosh-pit conductors, crowded songs, and fleeting moments of delicacy.

The working title of this record was the best year of our lives. This sunny appellation was announced less than a month after the group ousted founding member Ameer Vann for lying about details related to allegations of sexual misconduct—an occurrence about which frontman Kevin Abstract said “fucking hurts and sucks.” The original name could have been an attempt at twisted irony or simply a spotlight toward the positive: Until Vann’s departure, the group was experiencing a period of massive success, signing a $15 million record contract with RCA, booking a year-long world tour, and landing a 10-day recording session at London’s historic Abbey Road Studios to make their new album. By all accounts, the young DIYers, who had handled the heavy lifting behind their first three records themselves, were finally reaping the fruits of their hard labor.

But the band, known for their unharnessed energy and unchecked emotion, could only stifle a smile for so long. The renamed project, iridescence, is their most pummeling album, a collection of mosh-pit conductors, crowded songs, and fleeting moments of delicacy. Outside of the clear-eyed admissions of Abstract, the vocalists often get swallowed in the heavy mix, making the absence of Vann, their sharpest MC on past releases, noticeable. The balance BROCKHAMPTON had carefully calibrated by the final installment of its Saturation trilogy is out of whack here, with its rappers and producers biting off more than they can chew. It’s as if the group tries to drown transcendent moments in noise for fear of slowing down.

The band’s music has always been categorically loud—Saturation III standout single “BOOGIE” was built around a cop-car siren loop—but here it feels less purposeful and grooving. “NEW ORLEANS” is an endless grinder built on dissonant hums and a similar distorted bass kick like those used by Travis Scott on Astroworld standout “Sicko Mode.” Whereas Scott balances the tension of his sonics with a light keyboard melody and a little bit of Drake, producers bearface and Jabari Manwa construct an airtight wall of sound that stretches on for far too long. By the song’s fourth verse, with Merlyn Wood in his Ghanaian-tinged dancehall delivery, the track miserably tries to keep punching you in the solar plexus.

Close to half of iridescence’s 15 tracks follow this blueprint of auditory brutalism; “DISTRICT” blends together pitch-shifted vocals, a woozy siren synth line, airy guitar licks, and verses by six of the group’s members to create a morass of sound. Single “J’OUVERT” is equally ambitious, a mishmash of distorted bass pounds, robotic squeaks, and horn wails that engulf the song’s mad-at-the-world vocals. It’s like this often with BROCKHAMPTON: They happily present a mosaic of ideas that do not reveal a larger picture.

Even on the album’s quieter and more melodic moments, when the band momentarily veers into the still eye of the hurricane, the vocalists fail to make an impression. On “THUG LIFE,” the pretty, piano-driven relief from the pressure cooker energy of “NEW ORLEANS,” MC Dom McLennon squeaks out faux sad-boy deepness like, “They put my head in the water and it’s so beautiful under,” in a shaky delivery. Elsewhere, on the ballad “SAN MARCOS,” which is undoubtedly meant to inspire cell phones to sway at shows with its chorus-heavy guitar melody and London Community Gospel Choir outro, the group’s MCs pass cardboard confessions back and forth like, “Could be stronger than vibranium/Don’t mean that I ain’t fragile” by McLennon, and, “Suicidal thoughts, but I know I won’t do it,” by rapper and engineer JOBA.

BROCKHAMPTON’s work has always had a scatterbrain feel, the result of having 14 creative minds in the same studio. On each successive album, the band had become more economical in their movements. They figured out when to stop adding instrumental layers, like on the III highlight “JOHNNY,” built on a simple jazz loop, or made sure their writing was tight as possible, like on the confessional “JUNKY.” They can still sew in small pockets of delights, most clearly demonstrated on iridescence when the stage is given to Abstract, whose songwriting has grown from being shockingly honest to emotionally moving.

His opening verse on “WEIGHT” is the stirring centerpiece of the album, a candid examination of guilt and insecurity. “And she was mad cause I never wanna show her off/And every time she took her bra off my dick would get soft,” he raps in a sincere croak. The way he writes about and colors his shame—one of the least-examined feelings in hip-hop—is profound. “WEIGHT” also happens to be the album’s most complete composition, as a glittery string section gives Abstract’s vocals room to breathe before a reverb-drenched breakdown bursts the song open. At that point, a trip-hop drum break barges in under thick piano chords and chaotic turntable scratches. Against all odds, it coheres into something sublime and beautiful. The rest of the album is just not that lucky.

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