ALEX REVIEWS MUSIC (ARM): BROCKHAMPTON – “IRIDESCENCE” | 2018-09-24

Now that Notes from Barcelona – the Punktastic-hosted featured column series about the alternative/heavy live music scene in the Catalan capital – has finally pulled its editorial curtains and wrapped up a wonderful twelve-months of steady correspondence, expect this site to get even more flooded and infested by fierce jazzy music reviews, in addition to perhaps scattered musings and banters regarding books, TV, and cinema content here and there. For this reason and with this premise, partly because noblesse oblige, partly because of the topical relevancy of the significant subject matter, some time and space ought to be devoted to a recently released album which is almost too big to fail (and therefore ignore). What I’m referring to is none other than Sir Paul McCartney’s latest and 18th enthralling studio album Egypt Station, an opus work of art masterminded by influential and skilled producer Greg Kurstin that has unconditionally and inevitably been on heavy rotation on EMS’s playlists and mixtapes, almost exactly ever since its release on the past 7th September. Yet at the same time, conflictingly, the team here (?) is wholeheartedly, platonically, and consciously aware that one can’t simply review a Macca album as if it were nothing and just get away with it. Some appraisal tasks are bigger than one’s self, and with recording and performing acts like the Beatle par excellence, there simply comes a point where he transcends whichever semiotic symbolism (read: language, words) critics and reviewers might opt in to use in order to attempting at describing inherent artistic virtues, or lacks thereof, of any given creative endeavour by Sir Paul.

With that being said, the only thing I’d like to highlight and stress out, before embarking onto the actual music unit of analysis of the present critical assessment piece, is that the way Paul McCartney crafts and produces compellingly honest and raw storytelling through ornamented and layered melodies still goes unmatched. Much like a modern day raconteur or peasant minstrel distributing wisdom to his fellow villagers via insightful passages, Paul’s ability, or rather virtue, to construct simple yet universally addressable messages by way of simply-packaged and digestible power pop narratives is extremely sticky, and gains intrinsic value by the listen and by proxy of shared experiencing. Case in point, the tear-inducing and heart warming sly confessional of “Happy with You“, or the gracious and harmonic aesthetic of the very Beatles-esque “Dominoes“, all the way to Egypt Station’s more contaminated, experimental, and slightly left field cuts “Back in Brazil“, “Despite Repeated Warnings“, and album closer “Hunt You Down / Naked / C-Link“. No, ladies and gentlemen, I shall repeat myself, this isn’t a review in any shape or form, but just a testament of adulation to the biggest songwriter of our time and to his ability to instruct us all as to how to make sense of the world around us, almost since the world itself began, as Rolling Stone kindly points out when blasphemously reviewing the record: “Make a list of all the songwriters who were composing great tunes in 1958. Now make an overlapping list of the ones who are still writing brilliant songs in 2018. Your list reads: Paul McCartney. Sixty years after ‘Love Me Do,’ his legend already inviolable, Macca keeps adding new gems to his songbook, with nothing to prove except he’s the only genius who can do this“.

Now, the main LP getting dissected and scrutinised in this article actually has more in common with Paul and the Beatles ecosystem than one might imagine at first. Yes, because sensational rap/hip-hop collective BROCKHAMPTON’s fourth album iridescence was in fact recorded and produced at London’s Abbey Road Studios in just ten days, and no one needs reminding how that is linked to the Fab Four. So let’s not kid ourselves and act as if this isn’t a big deal. BROCKHAMPTON, the hardest working boyband in show business and arguably the biggest revelation to come out of 2017’s Western underground/indie/DIY artistic underbelly, conceived their incredibly highly-anticipated (and frequently retitled) follow up to the fantastic and critically acclaimed Saturation trilogy inside The Beatles’ legendary creative hub, and no one bats an eye? Well, in fact, many did bat an eye and because of that, many a stories came out in the run up to the album drop on 21st September, all fuelled by a wide variety of juicy, noteworthy, and controversial discussion topics, ranging from the queer group’s revelation and stellar rise last year to the unfortunate and regrettable exit of key core member Ameer Vann earlier this Spring, following a wealth of sexual abuse allegations put forward against him. What’s more, iridescence appears to be the first sonic instalment of yet another artistic trilogy dubbed The Best Years of Our Lives, to be issued by RCA Records (via their own production house Question Everything) after the Kevin Abstract-executively produced mega-group signed a much talked about deal with the Sony-owned imprint in March this year.

To be absolutely frank, the winding bias coefficient is not lost on me when approaching the artistic critical assessment of the fourth album of a performing act whose previous three full-lengths all featured in this site’s AOTY end-lists, during the same year. Nonetheless, the skilled and mixed race group’s influence and impact on the contemporary creative zeitgeist make for a kaleidoscopic perceived urgency that exists beyond any contributor’s personal preferences and warrants a judicial scrutiny all the same. Clocking in at just short of 50 minutes, and sporting a solid 15 tracks (including one and a half skits), iridescence kicks off with a grand slam in the listener’s face, with the fiery, hypnotic, and dingy “New Orleans”, sourcing top-notch deliveries by two of the boyband’s premier MCs, Dom McLennon (“When I die, these words gon’ need separate caskets in a hearse / I don’t rhyme, I freeze time and let these hands just do the work / I’m in tandem with my curse, going manic since my birth / See this canvas as I planned it, I’m commanding with my nerves“) and Matt Champion (“Bustin’ out the function, highly comfortable / Got this hot ting on my body, man my sweat lethal / Sweet kisses like the candy out the carnival / I’ma call my own shots, hit the audible“). After an unbelievably smooth and streamlined transition into what sounds like a Saturation-era-leftover, “Thug Life”, a powerfully dense trio of crunchy, distorted, and hectic cuts takes centerstage in this first half of the LP (“Berlin”, “Something About Him”, and “Where the Cash At”), lending a little too much messiness, although coupled with wonderfully intricate and layered vocal melodies, to the overall aesthetic. That said, the band’s mixing and mastering wizard Russell Boring aka JOBA’s outro on “Berlin” especially, is superior melodic songwriting, one that in the specific context of the moments of its happening takes the listener into a superlatively sweet, tender, and lucid direction after the intense and overwhelming sonic vortex populating the rest of said number.

“Weight” at number six on the playlist is an outstanding piece of compositional craft that virtually ticks all the boxes of best-in-breed modern hip-hop hit making, while at the same time marking a clear and distinct departure from the rap collective’s Saturation trilogy-universe: sound, theme, lyrics, production, delivery, structure, and flow. You name it, this song kills it. Moving on, the radically experimental and at times identity-less “District” wraps up side A of iridescence, glued together to its sister face by gorgeously pleasant filler “Loophole”, before diving into the grandiose and eerily dark-sounding and Radiohead-sampling “Tape” (on this one, take a moment to appreciate Kevin Abstract’s, JOBA’s, and Matt Champion’s damn fine flows and deliveries). Notwithstanding BROCKHAMPTON leader’s Twitter PSA warning, “J’ouvert” at number ten is the closest thing to a promotional single this project has got, and regardless of whether one wants to believe him or not, what a wonderful and striking choice that it. Everything from its tongue-in-cheek sound catchiness to each MC’s flawless vocal delivery, passing through the raucous, dangerous, and incendiary mood permeating the song throughout, “J’ouvert” hands down makes for one of the group’s most accomplished and astonishing tracks to date. What follows, “Honey”, is doubtlessly album peak to me, a stunningly creative and catchy patchwork that makes three minutes and change go by as if they were mere seconds. On this joint, heightened lyrical poignancy (“My people still dry snitchin’ whenever they touch the mic / That’s what happens when a therapist isn’t somewhere in sight / Take flight, never leaned to the left or the right / ‘Cause they turn the other cheek when our ni**as start to die“) gets coupled with fun and daring beats (that go as far as self-sampling Saturation’s chopped and screwed blasting gem “Bump” into a successfully reworked plug-in), but what takes this number up a millions notches is the unbelievably dreamy and heavenly elevating outro – or rather, second half – kicking in at about 1:35. Outta sight.

Across its final four tracks, the album isn’t able to match its top crown-y moments, unsurprisingly so given how much quality material is to be found distributed across the previous eleven cuts. Regrettably, the pale yet weird and chaotic “Vivid”, as well as dull and reductive album closer “Fabric”, lower the overall masterwork-status average of this record, only to be moderately counterbalanced in this late section by the stunningly robotic ballad “San Marcos” – curiously and un-intuitively inspired by the Goo Goo Dolls, still according to frontman Kevin Abstract – and previously unveiled lush and swanky tell-all dashboard confessional “Tonya”. All things considered, this major label debut and first instalment in the Best Years of Our Lives trilogy by the Texas-formed, LA-based collective represents a major flag in the BROCKHAMPTON career’s reign, a pivotal artistic landmark cradling inspired and gorgeously experimental sonic territory, forcefully navigated with the absence of a key founding member, but with a wealth of additional wisdom, depth, confidence, and virtue accompanying every steering turn and beat switch. iridescence is a fierce and dead serious candidate for a ton of further AOTY lists to come and a crystal clear conceptual delineation that the boyband isn’t comfortable simply resting on their Saturation laurels. Suddenly it doesn’t seem too crazy that, given ten days locked away in a quintessential Beatles reign creating on a 24/7 rotation basis, BROCKHAMPTON too might be eligible for the aforementioned Rolling Stone qualitative reasoning that worked so well for Macca. At least for now: “Make a list of all the songwriters who were composing great tunes in 2017. Now make an overlapping list of the ones who are still writing brilliant songs in 2018. Your list reads: BROCKHAMPTON”.

I’d like to thank you sincerely for taking the time to read this and I hope to feel your interest again next time.

AV

BROCKHAMPTON

“IRIDESCENCE”

2018, Question Everything Inc.

http://www.brckhmptn.com

BH_Iridescence

Advertisements

ALEX REVIEWS MUSIC (ARM): ALBUMS OF THE YEAR 2017 | 2017-12-22

prisoner_ra RYAN ADAMS – PRISONER (PAXAM RECORDING)

Buy it here. Read the ARM review here.

 

CWK_LADivine COLD WAR KIDS – LA DIVINE (CWKTWO CORP.)

Buy it here. Read the ARM review here.

 

KDot_Damn KENDRICK LAMAR – DAMN. (AFTERMATH/INTERSCOPE)

Buy it here.

 

ATDI_Inter Alia AT THE DRIVE IN – INTER ALIA (RISE RECORDS)

Buy it here.

 

68_TwoPartsViper ’68 – TWO PARTS VIPER (CHARIOT MUSIC, INC.)

Buy it here.

 

BH_Saturation BROCKHAMPTON – SATURATION (QUESTION EVERYTHING, INC.)

Buy it here.

 

VS_Big Fish Theory VINCE STAPLES – BIG FISH THEORY (DEF JAM RECORDINGS)

Buy it here. Read the ARM review here.

 

Tyler_FlowerBoy TYLER, THE CREATOR – FLOWER BOY (COLUMBIA RECORDS)

Buy it here.

 

BH_SaturationII BROCKHAMPTON – SATURATION II (QUESTION EVERYTHING, INC.)

Buy it here.

 

BH_SaturationIII BROCKHAMPTON – SATURATION III (QUESTION EVERYTHING, INC.)

Buy it here. Read the ARM review here.

I’d like to thank you sincerely for taking the time to read this and I hope to feel your interest again next time. And happy holidays this time around.

AV

ALEX REVIEWS MUSIC (ARM): BROCKHAMPTON – “SATURATION III” | 2017-12-16

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 phoneBut 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.

AV

BROCKHAMPTON

“SATURATION III”

2017, Question Everything Inc.

http://www.brckhmptn.com

BH_Saturation 3