Columns, Opinion, Reviews

SideTracked: New voices, Same Problems – BROCKHAMPTON bouncing back



Released 8/23/2019 / Question Everything/RCA Records

Genres: Pop Hip-Hop/Alternative R&B

After exploding onto the scene in 2017 with three amazing albums back-to-back-to-back, BROCKHAMPTON were poised to be one of the most important musical acts of the ‘20s. From the “SATURATION” releases, to being featured in a Viceland documentary, to getting signed to RCA, the group was on top of the world. That all came crashing down when founding member Ameer Vann was removed  after receiving multiple sexual misconduct allegations.

After that, the group scrapped “PUPPY,” the follow-up to their critically and commercially successful “SATURATION” trilogy. They went back to the drawing board and released an entirely new record, “iridescence.” It was a pretty major disappointment. I give the group credit for the project not being a complete train wreck, which it easily could have been given the circumstances. But that doesn’t make the lackluster songs or the album’s lack of cohesion any more palatable. After the band’s first misstep, I was really interested to see where their new record, “GINGER,” would take them. 

Unfortunately, I’m not even sure if the band knows the answer to that question. 

That uncertainty is easily the biggest flaw with this album. The “SATURATION” series worked so well because every verse, every beat and every hook hit harder than the last. It felt like every member was at the top of their game, and that’s just not the case here. For a group built on so many fascinating personalities, I have trouble finding much personality on this album. Even Matt Champion and Merlyn Woods, some of the most electric vocalists in the group, rarely hold my attention throughout “GINGER.” 

With the established members faltering, a unique opportunity emerged. It’s unusual that a group with as many unique voices as BROCKHAMPTON benefits from features or new additions, but those are some of the highlights on this album. The track “HEAVEN BELONGS TO YOU” features the UK hip-hop artist slowthai, who is an absolute delight. The last song, “VICTOR ROBERTS,” introduces a new member of the same name. These performances would have meant significantly less if they had been placed on a “SATURATION” record, but on this record they really stand out. 

Aside from these features, the core members of BROCKHAMPTON do manage to deliver on a few cuts. The opening song, “NO HALO,” is one of my absolute favorite songs the group has released, despite my firm belief that the boys are at their best when their songs are more immediate. “NO HALO” is low-key and has less of the inventive production that generally draws me into their work. What it lacks in those areas, though, it makes up for with some killer performances and a phenomenal hook. On my first listen, this song had me beyond excited. It seemed to promise a return to form for the group. 

If the entire record was at the level of “BOY BYE,” “DEARLY DEPARTED,” and the songs mentioned above, that would be the case. The former of these has the best beat on the entire project. It combines a sample of a Persian pop song with some banjo plucking into one of the catchiest and quirkiest songs of the year. “DEARLY DEPARTED” hits a new emotional low for the group, with over half of the vocalists coming together to vent their feelings on the Vann situation. This track would be good-not-great, except it builds into what might be Dom Mclennon’s best verse ever, even by his expert lyricism’s standards. It’s explosive, frustrated, and the closing couplet is incredibly powerful. 

Unfortunately, as great as this song is, it is followed up by four of the least interesting songs BROCKHAMPTON has ever made. The songs that have interesting production lack compelling performances, and in places where the vocalists pull my attention, the beats can’t do the same. None of these songs are bad, they just can’t reach the highs the others manage to. 

This disparity in quality creates a lack of direction on the album, and getting through parts of it can feel like a slog. Despite that, there are some really great tunes here, and it’s a stark improvement over “iridescence.” I look forward to the band continuing to rise above this tumultuous period and releasing something really great as we move into the next decade. This one just isn’t it.


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