It’s been almost an astonishing six months since the last ARM instalment saw the light of day on top of these frequencies, which might as well be the longest gap ever as far as this page is concerned, but hey who’s counting really. Undoubtedly, this is mainly due to the orbital enterprise partnership recently undertaken by yours truly with almighty online music zine Punktastic, which has kept me fairly (and fairy to be fair) busy throughout the latter half of 2017 and materialised itself in form of the ongoing Notes From Barcelona column series. While it’s certainly true that I kept being tested and teased by music gems over time, each one asking me to find some time to draft up a speedy ARM review here and there (see Tyler, The Creator, The Killers, The Front Bottoms, and J Roddy Walston & The Business as main perpetrators), I was kind of waiting for the truly right release to drop and thoroughly steal me back into ARM mentality. So what better way to resurrect the instalment than the third album of an annual trilogy dropped by a boy band literally unknown even a year ago? Enter and welcome BROCKHAMPTON‘s Saturation III.
BROCKHAMPTON is a Texas-raised, Los Angeles-based hip-hop collective sensation – declaring to be preferably referred to as boy band – founded three years ago, primarily by a bunch of lively nerdy teenagers chatting on Kanye West tribute Internet forum KanyeToThe. What the 14-member strong boy band has achieved this year is nothing short of incredible, releasing three (!) full length LPs among a multi-media artistic trilogy called Saturation. That is, after their 2016 free mixtape All-American Trash, in 2017 alone the virtuoso Texan minstrels have undergone a terrific one-two-three album release constellation, with their debut record Saturation out in June, its follow up Saturation II released in August, and the very subject of this review Saturation III out on their own record label Question Everything just a day ago on 15th December.
By effect of the above, esteemed readers please be conscious that this is inevitably as much a review of Saturation III as it is of their whole gianormously epic Saturation fatigue, a go-to-market creative decision pretty much unprecedented in mainstream hip-hop music, as far as I’m concerned. Admittedly, I wouldn’t be undertaking an analysis of BROCKHAMPTON’s latest musical effort – and what an effort – if it weren’t for the Internet’s busiest music nerd The Needle Drop and his unbelievably favourable reviews of both Saturation and Saturation II. The notoriously harsh and commonly feared influential online music critic not only opened me the starry and pearly gates to the BROCKHAMPTON’s universe, but at the same time he also referred me to the boy band’s leader Kevin Abstract’s stunning recent solo album American Boyfriend: A Suburban Love Story by sharing related content on Twitter, a record which to be fair would be owed a separate and fully dedicated ARM review for itself. These two (well, three to be exact) sonic lightning strikes combined out of the blue led me to a deep, long, and tempestuous quest to becoming borderline obsessed with any thing to do with the California-stationed street posse.
This infatuation of mine with BROCKHAMPTON and particularly its lead members, fronted by the aforementioned mastermind Abstract and key member rappers Ameer Vann (doubling as album artwork-model for the Saturation series), Merlyn Wood, Dom McLennon, and Matt Champion, got stronger and stronger as I progressively discovered how fresh, avant-garde, modern, and digital-first their whole entire definition of a boy band is. Yes, because BROCKHAMPTON isn’t merely composed of singer-songwriters and musicians, their understanding of boy band extends to include producers, graphic designers, web developers, artistic directors, and even tour managers, as wonderfully and hilariously mapped out in their VICELAND TV mini-series American Boyband. No other contemporary artist – let alone vast hip-hop outfit – has in my opinion been able to capture the essence of being a modern-day, self-sustained, multi-media act in control of their own destiny better than these guys scattered in a huge old house in South Central, Los Angeles, manufacturing and shipping one convincing delivery after the other with literally no one else to interfere with their business or artistic ambitions.
It’s essentially amongst the above premises that I enthusiastically and frantically awaited for the third and final chapter in the Saturation trilogy to drop the week before Christmas eve, certainly not without some kind of an aura of mystery due to an early December promotional tweet by the group announcing that Saturation III would not only have been the last of their epic Saturation saga, but even their last studio album as BROCKHAMPTON altogether (only to be cryptically dismissed by Kevin Abstract in a later promotional interview with Zane Lowe on Apple Music’s Beats 1 radio show). The first piece of music off Saturation III delivered to the public was its first groovy, intense, and elastic single “Boogie“, dropped just three days before album release alongside an enigmatic and convoluted short-movie called “Billy Star“, directed by none other than Kevin Abstract himself – who by the way conducts all music videos outputted by the BROCKHAMPTON factory – and crafted by the whole boy band. But there’s more. Shortly after the release of “Billy Star” the 22-minute short-movie, Kevin Abstract announced with a tweet that a full-length motion picture release for the same franchise is in the works with proper distribution in movie theatres. Talk of literal saturation of the market.
Wonderfully along those lines, Saturation III’s release day was truly nothing short of amazing, with not only the new 15-track record hitting the world’s airwaves for the first time in its full length, but the parallel release of a native smartphone app providing a ‘unique live audio experience’, as well as the almost unbelievable announcement of indeed a fourth studio album (!) coming out in 2018. Early listening experiences of the last Saturation-era LP were thus inevitably tainted with feelings of incredulity, admiration, and excitement. After having allowed enough time and repetitive spins to flush away any potential threat of biased judgement, the album certainly strikes as a fitting and well-rounded culmination and wrap up of the release marathon undertaken by BROCKHAMPTON this year. Even though both tracklist and running time have progressively decreased throughout the Saturation release cycle, the boy band still decided to play with numerous skits – all delivered in Spanish for the occasion by BROCKHAMPTON’s web developer member Robert Ontenient – as well as a slower, guitar chords-driven, mellow album closer (before Saturation III’s “Team”, it was “Waste” in Saturation and “Summer” in Saturation II) for the last instalment of the series. Another interesting parallel format across the three LPs is the inclusion of a gorgeous quasi-interlude/half-song towards the former section of the record, as exemplified by the dreamy and melancholic “2Pac” in Saturation, the sombre and raging “Teeth” in Saturation II, and the tell-all and introspective “Liquid” in this latest drop.
This almost mechanical reproduction of thorough art schemata is clearly something that the crew studied and achieved meticulously (no wonder the boy band labels their home-turned-recording studio the “Brockhampton Factory”), as in addition to the aforementioned recurring tracklist patterns, one could easily notice how all song titles within their Saturation trilogy were reduced to one single word with incremental numbers of letters with each new album released, with every last song on each record hinting at the increment that’s to come. That is, Saturation only contains 4-letters titles, Saturation II tracks have five letters, while Saturation III’s songs are all six letters long except for album closer “Team”, going full circle returning back to the first chapter’s title policy. But wait, there’s more. Remember how every last song on each record hinted at the next one and also how I said earlier that BROCKHAMPTON has already announced a new album for 2018? Well, guess what its working title is supposed to be? Team Effort. Pretty remarkable wordsmiths the young muchachos.
Saturation III to me is an album of dichotomies, juxtapositions, contradictions, much like the whole boy band at large. The record entails in my opinion some of the best and most forgettable cuts of their entire trilogy, with an overall approach that defines itself by less immediate tracks than its two precedents, but arguably bigger and more sophisticated productions as well as more convincing and distributed flows and deliveries by the group’s rappers/singers. On the negative side of the spectrum of juxtaposition I place songs like “Zipper” – which unofficially became Saturation III’s third single through the release of a music video for the track via their app – as well as “Stupid”. The former definitely feels too out of place on this record and would’ve perhaps found a more fitting environment on the G-funkier and exotic sounds of Saturation II, given that its impact simply feels too redundant following up the already siren-y, dense, groovy, and layered “Boogie” as second track on the record. The impression I get from “Stupid”, instead, is that the composition really tried to stay true to its title by leveraging trivial and at times irritating melodies and flows, not mentioning the slightly annoying and underwhelming refrain (“Boys wanna play with my cell phone / But I don’t want nobody to see what’s in it“).
On the other hand, at the other end of the quality spectrum of Saturation III we find some of BROCKHAMPTON’s best songs ever, such as the gorgeous and heart-wrenching “Bleach”, with honourable mention of the outstanding and incredibly impactful lyrics (“They said do you make mistakes or do you make a change? / Or do you draw the line for when it’s better days?”); the weird, wonderful, and experimental “Sister/Nation”, perhaps the song in which BROCKHAMPTON’s versatility and artistic contradictions shine most; as well as the album’s second single “Rental“, the track chosen by the boy band as visual wrapper for the trilogy, and to me the one where they truly became a boy band in the traditional sense of the word, whereby even OG rapper Matt Champion mellows down with softer harmonic melodies. To this bucket entailing the best moments of Saturation III I can’t not include the magnificently contagious and visceral first single “Boogie”, in my opinion the most convincing single/teaser to a BROCKHAMPTON record alongside Saturation’s “Heat“.
In-between the quality bi-polarism of Saturation III there are a number of still sensational and unique cuts, such as “Johnny”, “Hottie”, and “Stains”, and truth be told this is the real chunk of tracks that actually have me realize how much of a beautiful holistic artistic oddity this group has been this year. Yes, because I feel like sometimes what are to be labelled ‘average tracks’ on a given album are in fact a much better and more reliable indicator for evaluating the overall musical impact of that record, and in BROCKHAMPTON’s case they are still sounding better and fresher than almost anything I’ve heard all year. Yet ‘average’ isn’t a word that ought to be associated with the Los Angeles-collective in any shape or form, given its composition of mixed race, queer, multi-disciplinary, and outstandingly talented members. It’s no wonder, with something this special, that with their Saturation multi-media album trilogy BROCKHAMPTON have accomplished one of the most uniquely defining moments in recent hip-hop history.
I’d like to thank you sincerely for taking the time to read this and I hope to feel your interest again next time.
2017, Question Everything Inc.