If you’re into moshing and haven’t had your boy-band heart stolen by gangly English boys singing about your inability to conceive of your own beauty, the men of BROCKHAMPTON might be the guys for you.
Last year, the 14-member rap collective released a three-album project called Saturation and were quickly labeled hip-hop’s best boy band. They embody the ideal, “by us, for us,” featuring members of both white and black, queer and straight communities. They introduced their sound and defined their brand as fluid, all-caps, reckless emotion. Saturation reclaimed the whine of police sirens and addressed racism, poverty and homophobia.
On September 21, 2018 BROCKHAMPTON released iridescence, the first installment of their new project “the best years of our lives.” While the album has its points of rash emotion, parts of it feel like counterfeit anger. Maybe this is due to the loss of Ameer Vann, one of the group’s core members, after multiple women accused him of sexual misconduct. Following Vann’s departure, the band scrapped the project they were working on and cancelled a tour. During their Boston Calling Festival set, they stood silent during Vann’s parts.
The album opens with “NEW ORLEANS,” a heavy, synthesized track that feels a little scatterbrained at times. BROCKHAMPTON is known for having unchecked energy, but it runs a little too freely in this song.
“SAN MARCOS” tries to be that track you loop while taking an emo drive at 11 p.m. on a Tuesday, but the ballad lacks genuine feeling, relying on cliched sentiments regarding mental health. Lines like “Is you drinking for the pain, is you drinking for fun?” and “I’m afraid of commitment, don’t know how to fix it,” fall short compared to the understated desperation in older lyrics like, “Told my mom I was gay, why the f— she ain’t listen?’ While iridescence’s lyrics are written by different members of the group, there is a collective lack of intimacy.
“WEIGHT” is the album’s most impactful track. It’s carried by Kevin Abstract, the only member of the group that is openly gay. Abstract raps melancholy over strings, recounting a time in his life when he was learning more about his sexuality. “I was writing poems ‘bout her, dawg, in study hall, and she was mad ‘cause I never wanna show her off, and every time she took her bra off my d— would get soft. I thought I had problem, kept my head inside a pillow screaming.” Honest and personal, “WEIGHT” contains the genuine emotion that carried the band’s success last year.
One of my favorite tracks on the album is “SOMETHING ABOUT HIM,” which drips with something sugary, saccharine. Abstract is the primary vocalist on this track. The lyrics are simple, and the lazy, summertime melody leaves Abstract room to breathe. It’s a short ode to puppy love, but “SOMETHING ABOUT HIM” suggests freedom and happiness that feel fresh and unknown.
Tracks like “HONEY,” “J’OUVERT,” and “VIVID” still hum with the band’s traditional blame-the-world anger, but it feels less poignant and pointed. I found myself missing an album saturated with precise and honest emotion.
Ultimately, iridescence feels like a product of change. Whether it’s the loss of a band member and friend or the changes demanded by fame, the group is attempting to play with their sound. The shortcomings of iridescence could simply be growing pains.