Brockhampton, America's favorite new band of misfits, offers a more focused sound and plenty of memorable moments on "Saturation II."
Brockhampton is in the midst of a monumental glow-up. The release of two digital LPs, Saturation and Saturation II, and the debut of their VICELAND show “AMERICAN BOYBAND” has caused the group’s popularity to increase tenfold in the past four months.
What makes Brockhampton so compelling? Quite simply, they resemble nothing else in today’s hip hop landscape. Brockhampton comprises 15 rappers, producers, designers, and other artistically inclined young men in their early 20s who met in high school classrooms and on KanyeToThe forums and together moved to Los Angeles to chase their dreams as a group. They insist on the being labelled a “boy band” rather than “collective.” They share a house in South Central. They make shoestring budget music videos that exhibit a predilection for the wacky. In a country wrought with extreme racial tension, they appear to be a model of racial harmony.
Brockhampton released Saturation and Saturation II as bookends to this summer. Saturation inhabits a capricious and playful world in which there’s nothing in the rulebook against putting hyper-distorted bass and raps about “chilling at the gallows” in the same track as a Mac DeMarco-style flanged-guitar sing-along. It is defined by these sort of sharp turns. It is, in the words of a friend, “straight clam juice.”
By comparison, Saturation II has a significantly more focused sound. Brockhampton’s production traintrust, helmed by Romil Hemnani, dedicates much of the album to exploring the textures of different string and woodwind instruments. At the outset of leadoff track “GUMMY,” a glittering cascade of cinematic strings falters at the sound of a buzzer and becomes replaced with a moaning oboe dirge. Then there’s the pizzicato strings of “JELLO”; the layered zither ‘n’ sitar of “FIGHT”; the guitar and digitized orchestral pads of “SWAMP,” a song that also features a more subdued version of the delightfully demented erhu that later forms the backbone of “JUNKY.” The very fabric of “TOKYO” is torn asunder by a torrential clarinet lick the likes of which hip hop hasn’t seen since Vince Staples’s “65 Hunnid.”
While Brockhampton is egalitarian and collectivist in its approach, some of its vocalists leave a more profound mark on Saturation II than others. Kevin Abstract, the group’s de facto leader, delivers two of the album’s most indelible moments: 1) the chorus of “SWAMP,” during which he boils down the Brockhampton’s philosophy into the unruly chant “Fucking commas up from the outside!” and 2) his opening verse on “JUNKY,” which culminates with the fearless, caustic couplet, “’Why you always rap about being gay?’ Cuz not enough niggas rapping be gay.” It’s almost as good a line as “Heath Ledger with some dreads / I just gave my head.” One might draw parallels between Abstract’s “JUNKY” verse and Andre 3000’s triumphant “Int’l Players Anthem" verse. Both dwell in A1, percussion-less instrumentals, and both are potentially career-defining.
Dom McLennon has a gift for both self-affirmation and metaphor, and also for economy of words. He makes every syllable count. “I’m the sun and the moon, I’m the light and the dark / I am life in the tomb, I’m the pharaoh and slave,” he proclaims on “FIGHT”; “I put the coon in tycoon / We colonizing the moon,” he prognosticates on “CHICK.”
And then there’s the show-stopping vocal cord contortionist Russell “JOBA” Boring, who was painfully awkward on stage at the band’s performance at Afropunk last week but consistently drops jaws on wax with his impressive repertoire of falsetto harmonies, a talent he evidently cultivated while studying vocal performance in college before he joined Brockhampton.
The member of Brockhampton who sounds the most like a member of a boy band is bearface., the Northern Irishman whose sun-kissed vocals grace the two most sentimental songs on Saturation II, “JESUS” and “SUMMER.” As Genius user MamasUzi points out, bearface. may represent the point of view of Summer LeBeouf, the closeted high school football star who goes down on Kevin Abstract’s alter-ego “Helmet Boy” in the music video for last year’s single “Empty.”You should be my boy, bearface. sings on “SUMMER.” In the heat of the summer, you’re so different from the rest.
This far-flung connection is fascinating to consider. I’m inclined to take it as truth and believe that Kevin Abstract and his band of exuberant misfits have built such a bridge between worlds. It’s a feat of imagination of which they are more than capable.