Brockhampton's eclecticism is less jarring, but no less present on "Iridescence."
Merlyn Wood's got a line on Iridescence opener "New Orleans" that pretty accurately sums up Brockhampton's approach thus far: "Fuck you and the bubble that you livin' in." A couple years into their discography, the group has expended a good deal of effort actively trying to burst free from conventions, whether those be identity or sound-based. You like alt-rap and hate "pop music"? These quirky rappers are huge Harry Styles and Shawn Mendes fans. You only listen to pop music? Well this "boyband" has quite a few abrasive aggro-rap cuts. You want to mosh to those tracks? Sorry, there's a guitar ballad in between them. You don't usually like white rappers? You might like these ones. You're racist or homophobic? This is the last place you want to be.
This refusal to conform is the ethos by which Brockhampton live and die. At their best, they're the great millennial hope, the logical endpoint and Platonic ideal of universal acceptance and omnivorous playlisting. At their worst, these dudes are a sentient moodboard of shit they like. Whereas Brockhampton's collective idol, Kanye West, showed the breadth of his impeccable taste between The College Dropout and Yeezus by drastically limiting his scope on each specific album (his love for rock and electronic music barely shows up on the former, his love for R&B barely shows up on the latter, etc.), Brockhampton albums are unified by their eclecticism. What major stylistic differences can you highlight between any of their Saturation albums and Iridescence? No individual album seems to have a unique guiding principle; for Brockhampton, uniqueness is the guiding principle. Fuck your bubble.
If there is one key difference between this and the Saturation trilogy (other than Ameer Vann's absence), it's this: while songs still weave in a bunch of seemingly disparate genres, those stylistic nods feel less like pastiche and more like well-considered, if still jarring, companions. This is achieved both via seamless transitions, like when chaotic opener "New Orleans" smoothly swoops down into the much more tranquil "Thug Life," as well as via left-turns contained within individual songs, like when a DnB beat upends the lush strings and choir that open "Weight." None of this feels particularly forced, which is more than you can say for many Saturation transitions, especially the more ambitious ones on III. The group's first trilogy often felt like a grab-bag of genres, but thanks to more methodical deployment of those sounds, Iridescence manages to be just as eclectic without sounding like it's trying to be.
The most likely explanation for this is that the group, most of whom only met in-person around three years ago, have simply improved their chemistry over time. But there are two other possible causes for Iridescence's more stately sound. The first is the nine-month gap between it and its predecessor, Saturation III. The Saturation volumes all arrived within four months of each other, and it initially seemed like their next release would follow this pattern, as Brockhampton announced a new project called Team Effort before III had even officially arrived. Obviously, the surfacing of abuse allegations against core member Ameer Vann factored into the delay and eventual scrapping of Team Effort, but it also seems clear that the group wanted to take more time with Iridescence. "Not tryna lead anyone on or anything," Kevin Abstract tweeted a month ago after a few false alarms of an album release, "I just want us to keep making stuff we’re proud of and put it out when we’re ready i mean it from the bottom of my heart when i say thank you for your patience."
But Iridescence doesn't just sound more patiently-composed than any Saturation project, it also sounds like more money. Brockhampton recorded all three Saturations at the "Brockhampton Factory," which as you could see on their Viceland show, was just their name for the house they all rented together in Van Nuys, California. Iridescence was also recorded at something called the "Brockhampton Factory," except this time, its location was listed as Hawaii. While we have no confirmation that this second Factory houses something more in the way of a legitimate studio than some Macbooks, cheap mics, and pop filters, it probably does.
Far more telling is the fact that there's a second recording location listed, and that the location happens to be Abbey Fucking Road. Take a look at the list of recent things recorded at The Beatles' hallowed ground, and you'll notice there's not too many rap albums. In fact, the last appears to be Kanye's orchestral redux of his second album, LateOrchestration. Also note that Radiohead's classic Kid A, whose artwork Abstract gave the Iridescence treatment last week, was recorded at Abbey Road. Making use of full-blown string sections, the exact same reel-to-reel tape recorder The Beatles used to manipulate their voices on Sgt. Peppers, and some mimicry of very specific Radiohead drums sounds on "Tape" and "Fabric," Iridescence is Brockhampton's first chance to sit on the same playing field as their influences. It's similar to witnessing Tyler, The Creator going from Roy Ayers fanboy, to counting Ayers as a fan, to actually working with Ayers.
I'm not saying Brockhampton are on the same playing field as The Beatles, Kanye, and Radiohead. Not in the least. They now have the same tools at their disposal as their idols (and they make great use of them!) but they're still a long way from making generation-defining music. They're well on their way, and Iridescence is a big step in the direction of maturity and well-rounded sound, but there are times when Brockhampton's still unable to shake the cloying nerd vibe that's dogged them since the start. It's most obvious in their need to show you how broad their musical tastes are on some High Fidelity shit, but as that's been more smoothed out on Iridescence, it's most annoying in their attempts to sound brainy without having a ton of substance. Some Dom McLennon lines in particular are just meaningless jumble of SAT words— "One time for the paragons of the paradigm," "It's elementary when all you speak is rudimentary"— and he outright misuses the word "collude" while comparing himself to Nikola Telsa on "Fabric." It's empty pretensions like these that make Brockhampton continue to seem like the province of smarmy adults like Anthony Fantano and wide-eyed kids like the YouTube personality I know simply as "the Brockhampton kid." I like Brockhampton a lot; I don't think I'd make a ton of friends at a Brockhampton show.
On the other hand, Brockhampton have clearly inspired thousands of kids, and to quote Jay-Z, if you can't respect that, your whole perspective is wack. Is the choir earnestly singing "I want more out of life than this" on "San Marcos" a little much? Maybe. But picture it delivered by some multiracial queer kids to an audience who may see idealized versions of themselves in Brockhampton. Even my snobby ass teared up. Brockhampton are important, even without any classic albums under their belts. Their mission and vision will probably inspire a few of those in due time, but even if not, they'll create a diaspora similar to Odd Future's, which nearly a decade after the group's formation, has proven one of the most vital, fertile talent incubators in music. Breaking the barrier between Oasis' "Wonderwall" and Death Grips' "Guillotine" is something that very few (if any) other musicians can claim, and it will most likely inspire some 15-year-old in like, Cheboygan to attempt a new hybrid genre. Iridescence hits on more cylinders than anything else Brockhampton's done, and brings the group closer to actualizing their vital imagination of the American Boyband Dream.