by Grant Foskett
If you haven’t heard of BROCKHAMPTON yet, it’s likely you’ve been living under a musical rock for the past year. The “best boyband since One Direction” took the industry by storm in 2017 with their fantastic Saturation trilogy, putting out album after album of some of the most inspired rap music the world has heard in years. But all they built came tumbling down as (now former) member Ameer Van faced multiple sexual conduct accusations earlier this year. The group struggled to find their footing throughout the summer, cancelling their tour after an emotional Boston Calling performance, releasing a series of subpar 1990s singles, and changing the name of their album countless times (anyone remember Pencil?). After BROCKHAMPTON’s fall from grace, iridescence feels like a cathartic release of anger and sadness.
With every subsequent release, the group’s sound becomes more polished, dulling the sense of authenticity that originally made BROCKHAMPTON so relatable and interesting. Despite the band’s brags that iridescence was made in just ten days, the sense of amateur hunger that permeated Saturation seems to have been lost in the fulfillment of the boyband dream. For the first time, the BROCKHAMPTON fandom has truly reached boyband status, complete with Twitter challenges and chart feuds. This doesn’t necessarily affect the quality of the songs, but music is never made in a vacuum.
Iridescence does not lack in thermal-camera levels of colorful, punchy production and iconic lines like JOBA’s “Praise God! Hallelujah! I’m still depressed!” on ‘District.’ The problem is their chemistry and unique group dynamic no longer hold the tracklist together as tightly as previous projects. It seems the members are still struggling to slot into their roles in the new BROCKHAMPTON without Ameer. Although JOBA and Merlyn Wood have undoubtedly stepped up with central roles on ‘J’OUVERT’ and ‘WHERE THE CASH AT’ and Dom McLennon is as solid as ever, Matt Champion fails to find a truly stand-out verse. Beyond ‘WEIGHT’ and ‘TONYA,’ Kevin Abstract has an incredibly subdued presence, maintaining his emotional performances but never quite hitting home with a sticky, Saturation-esque hook. ‘SOMETHING ABOUT HIM,’ an ode to Kevin’s boyfriend Jaden Walker, is an unnecessary and distracting detour that doesn’t hit nearly as hard as previous BROCKHAMPTON interludes, like ‘TEETH’ off SATURATION II.
Within the turmoil, there is plenty of genius in iridescence. BROCKHAMPTON maintains their stylistic diversity, making plenty of the aggressive, noisy bangers that ‘SISTER/NATION’ from SATURATION III hinted at, but also toning it down for ballads like ‘THUG LIFE’ and ‘SAN MARCOS.’ There is no shortage of songs with sharp production and tight lyricism like ‘BERLIN,’ ‘DISTRICT,’ and ‘HONEY,’ and bearface’s contributions are more interesting than ever. The sampling on iridescence is also excellent. From the Cam’ron interview that makes up ‘LOOPHOLE’ to the repurposing of the group’s own song ‘BUMP’ near the end of ‘HONEY,’ it’s obvious that Romil, Kiko, and Jabari have grown as producers. The features from Jaden Smith and serpentwithfeet also go over surprisingly well, leaving the only musical missteps to be the abuse of pitch shifted vocals all over the album. From the end of ‘WEIGHT’ to the middle of ‘SAN MARCOS,’ there are many moments that could have been so much more emotionally potent and personal without the needless pitch-shifting, and more emotion and personality is exactly what iridescence needs.
Overall, iridescence is a middling success for BROCKHAMPTON. They did exactly what they needed to in order to move away from their own shadow cast by the Saturation Trilogy and the fallout from Ameer Vann, but some musical inconsistencies and a lack of chemistry hold the record back from being the triumphant return the group needed. Hopefully BROCKHAMPTON will be able to fix these issues moving forward. After all, if you read the fine print, you’ll know that iridescence is just the first installment in a brand new trilogy, The Best Years Of Our Lives.