They were on top of the world, or so it seemed.
After three self-released albums in the span of a year, BROCKHAMPTON had signed to RCA records on March 30, 2018, and looked destined to take their sound out of the Los Angeles underground.
The group, a self-styled boyband and rap collective from Los Angeles, made a name for themselves thanks to their unique approach to hip-hop songwriting. While the band certainly is rooted in the rap canon, they’ve incorporated punk, pop and rock into their sound in a distinctive way.
But it’s not just the band’s sound which made them unique, it’s also their decision to address issues of sexual and racial identities in their songs. Bandleader Kevin Abstract is unapologetically gay with his lyrics in a music community which has long been based on an uber-masculine and straight identity.
They sounded fresh, their message felt important and nothing, it seemed, could halt their climb to the top.
But, on May 12, 2018, it all came crashing down.
Then-member Ameer Vann was credibly accused of sexual misconduct and was quickly dismissed from the band.
It was a rough transition for the group — rapper and musician JOBA was filmed crying on stage at Boston Calling music festival and the band briefly cancelled its tour.
So, like Bowie in 1976, BROCKHAMPTON fled Los Angeles and headed to Europe, but instead of settling in Berlin like the art-rock great, the group set up shop in London and gave itself a challenge — record an album in 10 days in its new home.
The album that resulted from these sessions, “iridescence,” was released Friday.
The album takes on two sounds that the band has employed in the past — the abrasive sound they have showcased on tracks like “HEAT,” and the mellow, thoughtful sound of songs similar to “FACE.” These two styles help express the band’s conflicting emotions in the wake of Vann’s sexual misconduct coming to light.
Half of the album embraces a gritty electronic sound layered with scattered angry lyrics. It’s as if Trent Reznor and Yeezus-era Kanye got together and decided to produce a Radiohead-Kraftwerk collaboration. It’s absurd, aggressive and wonderful — all at once. You can hear this sound all over the tracks “WHERE THE CASH AT,” “DISTRICT” and “J’OUVERT" on the album.
The other half of the album is strewn with piano and guitar driven songs. These songs — “THUG LIFE,” “SAN MARCOS,” “TONYA” and others — are reflective, documenting various group members’ struggles with depression, both before and after their decision to dismiss Vann from the group.
But, while Vann’s dismissal looms heavy over the album, the writing on the album addresses sensitive issues in a way the group hasn’t before.
BROCKHAMPTON has often discussed issues of identity, but they become unapologetically political for the first time with “iridescence.”
On “NEW ORLEANS,” Merlyn Wood reflects on the imperial roots of his identity, rapping “momma took me to the church and I sang a hymn / Colonized Christian / Now I’m losing my religion.” And on “HONEY,” Dom McLennon raps, “Take flight, never lean to the left or the right / ’Cause they turn the other cheek when our n----- start to die / When our women start to die, when our children start to die.”
Abstract also addresses his struggles with his sexuality in more depth than on previous projects. Specifically on “WEIGHT,” he describes the shame he felt as a teenager, rapping, “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 a problem, kept my head inside a pillow screaming.”
They’re lyrics that match the ambition of the project as a whole, a project which is captivating from the moment Matt Champion utters the intro to “NEW ORLEANS.”
While there’s nothing on this album that’s as overtly fun as “STAR,” “GOLD” or “BOOGIE,” “iridescence” is more experimental, musically interesting and ambitious than anything BROCKHAMPTON has released before.
On Friday September 21, 2018, BROCKHAMPTON arrived with “iridescence.”
Favorite Tracks: “WHERE THE CASH AT,” “J’OUVERT,” “HONEY”
If You Like: Kanye West; Tyler, The Creator
Shamrocks: 4.5 out of 5