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Brockhampton - Iridescence (Album Review)

Wednesday, 26 September 2018 Written by Jonathan Rimmer

With their inclusive ethos, motivational lyricism and taste for avant-garde pop production, Brockhampton have proved over the past year and half that they're the hip hop collective OFWGKTA should have been. That comparison might seem trite from an artistic perspective, but it fits because of the impact both groups have had on a predominantly young audience. But where OFWGKTA had a misanthropic streak, Brockhampton's messaging is more wholesome and empowering.

That point is important to keep in mind when reflecting on last year's 'Saturation' trilogy, which was as acclaimed for its relentless marketing as its excellent content. Stacking the projects with relatable rhymes delivered with energy and exuberance, the Texas 'boyband' filled a long-term void. Finally, hip hop had an outfit of talented young artists willing to be vulnerable and vocal on social issues without resorting to shock value. The best part of all was they seemed to be loving every minute of it.

It therefore seems apt the follow-up trilogy (yes, another trilogy) of records is titled 'The Best Years of Our Lives'. But if anything, what's most notable about part one, 'Iridescence', is its more introspective tone.

Earlier this year, Brockhampton took the decision to drop Ameer Vann from the group after sexual misconduct allegations were made against him. On the record, meanwhile, several members express feelings of loneliness, self-doubt and dissatisfaction with their newly acquired fame.

By and large, these moments are delivered brilliantly. Group ringleader Kevin Abstract stands out on the centrepiece track Weight, where he reflects on teenage struggles with his sexuality (“I was writing poems 'bout her, dawg, in study hall/ And she was mad 'cause I never wanna show her off”). The track also demonstrates the group's nous for sonic expression as Joba's outro verse is gradually overridden by haunting electronics.

The advances in production values on the album – thicker bass (District), stronger drums (J'Ouvert) and impactful use of synthesisers (New Orleans) – can't entirely be put down to the crew's maturity considering it was recorded at Abbey Road Studios in London. Nevertheless, the pacing still manages to be an issue. The 'Saturation' trilogy, particularly parts II and III, rumbled on like a freight train and didn't overstay its welcome. Here, short interlude-type pieces like Something About Him and Where the Cash At feel rushed and ill-placed.

Attempts to pitch shift vocals and experiment with drum patterns to an even greater degree are bold, but they're hardly necessary or groundbreaking and just disrupt the flow. The use of autotune is also problem when there are so many emcees jumping on a track at any time (Kevin Abstract and Belfast native Bearface somehow sound nearly identical on Vivid). Conversely, previously less recognised members, such as the convulsive Joba and more rough-and-ready Merlyn, do manage to shine on posse-oriented cuts like New Orleans and District.

'Iridescence' is consciously awkward, constantly seeking to subvert listeners' expectations with beat switches and surprising vocal hooks, typified best on San Marcos when a choir belts out “I want more out of life than this” over stirring violins. However, it's also a thematically consistent record that hints this talented group are still developing. Its experimental edge might suggest it's a stop-gap, but as with 'Saturation' the best episodes of the trilogy may still be to come.

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