Albums / reviews

The Best Years of Their Lives: iridescence Review

These are supposed to be the best years of their lives for the self-proclaimed America’s favorite boyband BROCKHAMPTON. They put the time, blood, sweat, tears in. They did the near-impossible: 3 mixtapes in a year, all met with critic praise, all while touring the country and building a diehard fanbase of stans online with their constant teasing and previewing of music. Their defacto leader Kevin Abstract, who has claimed everyone from Whitney Houston, to Tupac, to nearly the entirety of Odd Future as his heroes, didn’t just study the game: he stanned it from the beginning. Kevin knows what makes music fun to follow, and how to leave fans wanting; no DEMANDING, in all-caps Twitter replies and IG comments, more music, more merch, more snippets, more albums. If 2017 was about tired broke boys acting rich, 2018 is about actually flexing those riches and their taste.

And their impossibly busy 2017 seemingly paid off, as they entered 2018 with a shiny new RCA contract, leaving behind the freedom of indie releases in favor of the security and resources of a new recording label. But it wasn’t all dollar signs and celebrations for BROCKHAMPTON, as right as their 1st studio album under RCA was set to begin it’s promotion run, abuse allegations surfaced against rapper Ameer Vann. The group swiftly responded by kicking him out and began a rework of the album, once known as PUPPY. Without Ameer’s snarling method of gangsta rap, it’s speculated many of the album’s beats and structure was redone. The ending result was iridescene, a synth whizzing roller coaster of the group’s experiences since signing to RCA, and one of the best works the group has ever put out.

The album opener “New Orleans” kicks off with woozy synths and their most technically proficient rapper Don McLennon is off to the races with his best “Odd Future Kill ‘Em All” impression, Kevin follows with his chorus, members bearface and Joba struggle to fill the space between synth bumps with words, before Kevin and honorary BROCKHAMPTON member Jaden Smith can come in and save them with another chorus. It’s a worrying sign that has plagued every BROCKHAMPTON album: the beat will bump, Kevin understands strong structure enough to make his ideas sound good, but when everyone in the group has to have input and a verse, the final product can suffer. Luckily, only a few songs on the album suffer from these deadweight verses, and the album begins to flow in a more abstract way immediately after.

“Thug Life” is the 2nd track and one of the first signs that you’re not listening to the SATURATION series anymore, Kevin sings about the “Thug life / I gotta get that bag” but with a high-pitched baby lullaby voice he’ll rely on throughout the album. It’s a mood setting transition track that highlights how when Kevin is the one in charge, nudging his crew to stand in the right spot and come on to the beat at the right time, the group is unstoppable. “Something About Him” serves as solo Kevin track, a love letter to his boyfriend, pitched like his heroes Frank Ocean on “Nikes” or Radiohead’s Kid A, the track is soothing, sweet, infectious, and too short to only be listened to once.

Kevin claimed Kid A was the blueprint for iridescence, and it’s seen in some of the synth frenzies and breakdowns handled by their ever-developing producer whiz Romil. The breakdown on “Weight” and at the end of the album “Fabric” are especially fun to listen to: with the drums punctuating, Kevin’s baby robot voice singing, and synths flying, it all paints a pretty picture that can feel like you’re flying over the Kid A mountains with a new color pallet. “Honey” also belongs in this inspired category, with the bouncing synths and bass providing the perfect bounce house for BROCKHAMPTON to show off their talents. You won’t even notice when the synths melt into another Kid Aesque breakdown with a “Million reasons to get rich” rap chorus and police sirens: everything is in the right place.

Album highlight “Berlin” follows with another thug-pitched chorus, this time from bearface, “She said ‘Baby boy why you looking grimy and shit?’ / I’ll make the wristwatch flood, let diamonds fill my sink” with the motorcycle revving is one of the catchiest opening hooks of the year, and deserving of several replays. “San Marcos” serves as one of the most important pillars of the album, giving nearly every member a chance at the mic like the opening track, except this time they all have something important to say and make the most of their words about their career sentiments and hometown nostalgia. Joba tackles the sensitive topic of suicide, “Suicidal thoughts, but I won’t do it / Take that how you want, it’s important I admit it”, a juxtaposition against much of the rest of the album about flexing and celebrating the “best years of our lives”. It’s a reminder that at the end of the day, these are just boys getting used to the spotlight, growing up in the social media hurricane, and struggling with their own mental demons like the rest of us. They rap like superheroes at times, but they are human and that’s what makes the band so important to millions of teens and young adults around the web.

BROCKHAMPTON 2018 (via Kevin Abstract IG)

The album is a clear growth from the SATURATION series, with the production improvement especially more noticeable. Still, Kevin Abstract spends much of the album hiding in the shadows, only coming out to bridge verses together or providing his own short verse. BROCKHAMPTON has always been about the sum being greater than the part, but Kevin is too bright a star to only assist. I would like to see him take a more dominant role on future albums (this is only the 1st installment in the 3-part “the best years of our lives” series) as well as for the members to break out of their comfort zone and try new roles within the album. Still, this album is a celebration of BROCKHAMPTON’s ever rising talents and it seems like they’ll continue to move mountains from here.

Album highlights: Thug Life, Berlin, Something About Him, Weight, Honey

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