Review of Brockhampton's Iridescense
Merriam-Webster’s defines “iridescence” as “a lustrous rainbow-like play of color caused by differential refraction of light waves that tends to change as the angle of view changes.” The latest album from hip-hop collective Brockhampton takes this rather technical term as its title, and it fits well. Iridescence is a bit of an enigma, changing masks multiple times throughout its 48-minute length. One moment, it sounds like an updated offering of the hard-hitting bangers we found in last year’s Saturation trilogy. The next, it becomes a somber meditation on the suffering that change brings, becoming in the end a triumphant declaration of perseverance and survival. The name certainly intends to reassure listeners of the band’s focus, despite the ever-changing style of the album.
This new approach won’t win everyone over, as forseen by Brockhampton leader, Kevin Abstract, who tweeted about their fourth album likely being polarizing prior to the record’s release. He had gone on to compare Iridescence to other fourth studio releases known for their game-changing sounds such as Radiohead’s Kid A, Bjork’s Vespertine, and Kanye West’s 808s & Heartbreak.
Iridescence certainly isn’t like any of those albums, but their influence can be found throughout it. Much of the productions features combinations of lush string compositions and off-kilter electronic beats, sounding a lot like Bjork’s Homogenic and Vespertine. The processed vocals on “Something about Him” are reminiscent of Thom Yorke’s performance on the title track from Kid A. Another nod to Radiohead manifests in the form of the brilliant “Tape,” whose beat (and title) is strikingly similar to the closer to In Rainbows, “Videotape.” Of course, just like in the Saturation trilogy, Kanye West serves as the primary influence, as Brockhampton continues to make deeply melodic and autotune-tinged blends of hip hop and R&B.
What’s clear is that Brockhampton did their homework for this one. To understand what drove them to change their sound, it’s important to know the context behind Iridescence. Earlier this year, founding member Ameer Vann was kicked out of the group amid allegations of sexual assault. Obviously, this event shook the band to its core. They had planned to release the album in June, but, under the circumstances, it was delayed until September.
It’s no wonder then why so much of the music on this album can be downright heart-wrenching. Standouts like “Weight” and “Tonya” are straight-up tearjerkers. On these songs, Kevin & co. implicitly make reference to the pain caused by the Ameer scandal and other personal traumas. Kevin’s verse on “Weight” is probably his most stunning work since “Junky” on Saturation II. Merlyn Wood shines on “Tonya”: his quiet delivery is a stark shift from his usually aggressive style, and it absolutely makes the song. “San Marcos” is a gorgeous ballad which culminates in a children’s choir refrain that will surely become a live staple for future Brockhampton shows: “I want more out of life than this.”
It’s not all gloom, though. Opener “New Orleans” and “J’ouvert” are as aggressive as previous Brockhampton bangers like “Heat” from the original Saturation. It’s impossible not to want to jump like a madman during “Where The Cash At.” The beat on “Honey” is groovy as hell, and the second half, which samples Beyoncé’s “Dance for You” brilliantly, is pure euphoria. “Fabric” is a stirring pledge to perseverance and endurance.
Iridescence isn’t a sad album—even if sadness serves an important role. The album is about change, and how complex change can be. It’s hard to balance accepting the past, the pain of sudden trauma, and the commitment to keep going no matter what. Change, in the positive sense, encompasses all of that, just like the light spectrum encompasses all the colors of the rainbow. With Iridescence, Brockhampton has created an impressive ode to change, and has made some incredible music in the process.