If there was a key word that could be applied to Brockhampton in 2018, it would be ‘pressure’. After last year’s Saturation Trilogy, a series of lauded albums which gained them the tremendous and ever-expanding cult following they have today, there were practically no scenarios in which the ‘best boyband since One Direction’ wouldn’t have their work cut out for them in releasing a new album this year.
Of course, the pressure did not stop there. Not only is their new album, Iridescence, their major label debut with RCA, but its their first since founding member Ameer Vann left the group earlier this year following various allegations made against him. The departure of who many fans saw as a pivotal figure within Brockhampton led to scepticism regarding the quality of not just a follow-up album, but the group’s entire musical output going forward.
It’s no surprise then that Iridescence – the first album in a new trilogy, The Best Years of Our Lives – is not only the group’s most emotionally-charged album, but is a showcase of some of their most lyrically cohesive work yet. During the Saturation era, it seemed that each member of the group was constructing their own personal narratives on the tracks they were included on. While this is still the case on this album, the group’s recent rise to fame, as well as their shared trauma from losing a member, has resulted in them sounding more unified than ever before. This is made even more impressive by the amount of musical ground covered by the album, with certain songs moving through multiple different phases while still maintaining a sense of consistency.
The first two tracks encapsulate a lot of the album’s lyrical content, as well as its musical diversity. On ‘NEW ORLEANS’, the boys re-enter the game with the well-earned confidence of people who have overcome serious adversities, and speak on their new-found stardom. William “Merlyn” Wood’s characteristically wild performance makes his verse one of the most irresistible on the album. Despite the throbbing, robotic beat, there’s a tint of sadness to the track: Matt Champion’s ‘ego killed’ and Russell “Joba” Boring’s “wings clipped” (this becomes a common occurrence throughout the album, especially on tracks like ‘DISTRICT’ and ‘J’OUVERT’).
The melancholic edge of the song manifests itself more clearly on the next track, ‘THUG LIFE’, which flows perfectly on from its predecessor, swapping the noisy soundscape for soulful pianos and a bright synth lead – a transition which saves the album’s intro from feeling too one-note. Dom McLennon’s lone verse on the track is a vivid and compelling depiction of depression and the rapper’s attempts to find beauty in it (“They put my head in the water and it’s so beautiful under/The sun reflecting off the corals, colours I can’t describe”).
The vulnerability displayed on this second track carries throughout most of Iridescence. ‘TAPE’ sees the group reflecting on their insecurities and fears. A sense of building anxiety is heard through the intense rattling snare drum, as well as Dom and de facto leader Kevin Abstract’s rapid flows. ‘SAN MARCOS’ sports a completely different sound, with the 2000’s alt-rock/emo influences that have seeped their way into Brockhampton’s previous albums returning in full force through low-tuned guitars and Ciaran “Bearface” McDonald’s signature crooning, as well as the fragility of Dom and Joba’s verses. The stunning string work and endearing choir vocals heard in the track’s outro, complimented by tasteful synth and piano flourishes, make for a spellbinding and bittersweet ending.
The melancholia that drives the album is at its most heart-wrenching on ‘TONYA’, which may be the group’s most contextually significant song to date, given its multiple references to both Ameer’s actions (“I feel like brothers lie just to my feelings don’t get hurt”) and the group’s winning streak being cut short in the ensuing controversy (“private jets still crash”). The track gracefully flows from one idea to another, beginning with a mesmerising piano intro which leads into an instrumental that is as sorrowful as it is infectious. Each vocalist brings a believable poignancy in their respective parts, and singer/songwriter Serpentwithfeet – one of the album’s few features – supplies one of the album’s most delicate and memorable hooks.
Despite the fact that the group’s more dejected side takes centre stage on the album, there’s certainly no shortage of hard-hitting tracks to be heard. After a tension-building string intro, ‘DISTRICT’ launches into a thumping, distorted fever dream, bringing the pitch-shifted hooks and instantly quotable lines (“Praise God, hallelujah! / I’m still depressed”) you’d want from a Brockhampton banger. Generally speaking, the sonically heavier tracks on Iridescence are slightly less exciting than they have been on previous albums, and ‘BERLIN’ is the most glaring example of that. The track has one a the most chaotic beats on the album and ends with a speaker-rattling finale, but it feels a bit too cluttered and noisy for its own good. Despite an impassioned verse from Dom, ‘VIVID’ also falls short due to its less engaging instrumental and lack of development.
‘J’OUVERT’ shines through as the most electrifying of the bangers, sporting a fairly low-key mechanical beat with a dancehall-flavoured sample halfway through. A feral and intoxicating performance from Joba is contrasted with the casual swagger of and Matt and William “Merlyn” Wood, which also shows up on the similarly industrial ‘WHERE THE CASH AT’. ‘HONEY’ is also a more fleshed-out and progressive cut, ending with a blissful soundscape built upon a sample from Beyoncé’s ‘Dance For You’, as well as an interpolation of Matt’s verse from the Saturation I track ‘BUMP’.
The tracks that manage to merge infectious energy with a gloomy atmosphere are, generally speaking, the most impressive and creative on the album. After a heartfelt and introspective verse from Kevin delivered over a dazzling string section, ‘WEIGHT’ launches into a blood-pumping, London rave-style beat. As the title implies, the track directly deals with the various pressures surrounding the group. Joba’s distraught delivery towards the end makes for a dramatic yet authentic verse, which is the case for many of his contributions on the album. Similarly, Bearface reveals a wider range this time around, branching out past his usual R&B/soul territory. ‘FABRIC’, the album’s closer, sees him deliver a distorted and unusually angry verse which, along with Merlyn’s whispered refrain, gives the song an unnerving and eerie quality that the group didn’t really seem capable of up until this point. The track climaxes with a pounding, unrelenting bass drum, and the ensuing silence is broken by a cold, desolate instrumental that rides the song out – presumably a taste of what’s to come, given Merlyn’s proclamation: “It’s the best years of our lives, motherfucker”.
This may not be the album fans wanted to hear, but it feels like the one the group needed to make. Whether they’re manic or despondent, most of the verses and hooks certainly came from a dark place. Despite this, there’s still plenty of diversity and experimentation to be heard on what is undoubtedly their most professional-sounding full-length release. Iridescence kicks off a new era in style, and further cements Brockhampton as one of the most exciting and adventurous groups in the hip-hop scene.