A lot of listeners and fans of BROCKHAMPTON who tend towards Spotify, Google Play, and other streaming services for their listening (no harm in that) may be wondering to what the title of this review refers. The group released a box set, which featured 4 CDs and a DVD - obviously included was the full SATURATION trilogy. Also included was a documentary about the making of the trilogy. The fourth CD is called, "DRAFTS". It features the original versions of many songs that ended up being changed considerably in their release on their respective albums, demoes, unnamed tracks that never made it onto albums, and other unreleased work.Read More
The long-awaited completion to the SATURATION trilogy was released last week, and man, is it a douzey. BROCKHAMPTON have marathoned through this year, producing three full length albums. The first two were unsurprisingly well-received, especially considering the strength of their first mixtape, All-American Trash. There was a bit of controversy surrounding this album, however, as Kevin Abstract claimed that this would be the last studio album from BROCKHAMPTON. We have since learned, in an interview with Zane Lowe, that that is not the case, with another album titled, “TEAM EFFORT,” to be released in 2018. As much as I hate the term, Kevin can be a pretty great troll when he wants to be.
But, regardless of all that pretext, the album itself.
First, the production style is off-the-charts awesome. Romil Hemnani, Jabari Manwa, and Isaiah "Kiko Merley" Merriweather are doing a tremendous job pushing the group forward, without venturing too far into uncharted territory that it becomes pastiche or overbearing. Particularly in this album, they brought in more distortion and were more willing to take risks, making the beats busier and denser. Some could argue that there were a few missteps (even I’d have to admit that the vocal mixing on, “BOOGIE,” is a little bit low), but I feel that on the whole, this was a good step forward. Additionally, I’m happy to hear that the group isn’t stagnating, even between the few months that separate each of these albums.
Second, the diversity of vocal styles is, just as with past albums, very refreshing. I particularly appreciated the group’s willingness to bring in what is closer to singing than rapping in their hooks and bridges, over this album. Those were some of my favorite moments, and that isn’t something that’s super common to this sub-genre of music.
Third, and final, is the highest-level opinion that I’d like to give. The reason that I like this album as much as I do is very much the same as the reason that I liked their past efforts so much. This group touches on so many topics. They cover their personal struggles, the struggles within the communities from which they come, the struggles of their cultures in modern society, social issues of the day, and problems within the rap community. They talk about a lot, and they do it well - concisely, and without ever seeming contrived or preachy. That’s surprisingly tough to do, and I feel that they don’t get enough recognition for it.
But, simultaneously just as important, the music is pervasively good. It’s innovative, interesting, and engaging. Put concisely, even with all of the content covered in the music, it’s still music that I could, would, and probably will dance to. This album, and the two before it (and their mixtape!) are absolutely enjoyable both on a surface and an analytical level.
Massive props, 9.5/10.
The album opens with the previously released, single, “BOOGIE”. This has been one of my favorite songs from them since it was released, and it remains as such even in the context of the full album. This song is absolutely energizing, with a flurried, busy beat and short verses from most of the self-titles boyband’s members. This song features sporadic themes from verse to verse, covering the members’ opinion of the group, listeners’ reactions, and how the group perceives itself, publicly. All this is underlied by this driving, intense bassline with deeply distorted and twisted horns covering the melody.
Next is, “ZIPPER,” a very overt shift in tone. This track drops the tempo considerably, opting for a more harmonically dissonant melody with a more flowing and light bassline. This is accompanied by some trap-influence hi-hats and snare, which is a bit of a theme in this album. The first verse in this song is a favorite of mine across the album, where XXX discusses how he can’t tell if he’s crazy, that he can only describe what he sees through his own perspective – essentially meaning that his perception of himself is inherently subjective because, well, it’s his perception of himself. This song also features a verse by XXX that I love simply for the demonstrated diversity in his voice. I would never have recognized it as XXX had I not been following along with a lyric guide. This is also a common theme across BROCKHAMPTON’s work, in general: they play around with their own voice’s timbre and tone, to great effect.
Seventh on the track-list and another of my favorites is, “BLEACH”. This features a hook by Ryan Beatty that is simply beautiful, and this is part of why I generally like BROCKHAMPTON so much. They don’t restrain themselves to the current norms of their genre, and allow for a wide range of experimentation, as we’ll see again at the end of the album. It keeps me constantly engaged in the music when it doesn’t simply fall into patterns and predictable molds. The beat is also particularly good on this track, with interesting use of samples and sound effects integrated into a very engaging, liquid, and saturating (hardy har) melody and harmony. The standout verse on this song belongs to XXX, as he discusses how he perceives reforming himself, and how he approaches making changes in his life. For an album that makes me nod my head as hard as this one does, this song is oddly beautiful, without seeming out of place or inappropriate.
Next, “ALASKA”. Here, Ameer Vann opens by discussing how he views his self-worth in the new context of his pop-stardom. The beat kicks in quickly, with another entrancing melody, underlied by hard-hitting bass and well-put together drum parts. In the same verse, Ameer brings up some interesting commentary that I think is worth highlighting, “The coupe is mustard colored / What the fuck is Grey Poupon?” There’s another element of my appreciation for BROCKHAMPTON – they continuously make interesting commentary on every aspect of their lives – Kevin Abstract, often on his sexuality, and the rest of the group, on anything that troubles them in the culture in which they’re now steeped or in their personal lives. This album particularly heavily emphasizes some of the issues that some of the group members are going through, and that’s something that I very much appreciate. The music is mustard, not Grey Poupon (excuse the clunky metaphor).
“RENTAL,” is a miss for me. It doesn’t seem to touch on much, and the vocal composition and beat just don’t really grab me. Additionally, the lyrics are extremely repetitive, with almost half of them being the hook. And that hooks consists of the same two lines repeated four times.
I will admit that it’s not all bad, and that in that other half, there is merit. Dom talks about a past relationship of his, and very directly brings up what he feels he needs to change about his approach to the world.
But still, I feel that this is one of very few songs on this album that is a general miss for me. It just doesn’t grab me the same way that the other tracks do.
As we get close to the end, with the third to last track, titled, “STAINS", this is my second miss. This was also released in an interview with Zane Lowe, just 10 hours before the album dropped. BROCKHAMPTON sure likes to keep us on our toes, and I couldn’t complain about getting another tidbit early.
This is another track that doesn’t particularly grab me, but I certainly don’t harbor the same animosity to it that I do towards, “RENTAL”. It’s a pretty good song – good production, an interesting skit with a very funny reference to Lil’ Wayne, and well-put together verses. But, it lacks some of the uniqueness that I love to much in most of the other tracks on this album.
Certainly not terrible by any means, just not a song that struck me as particularly excellent, in comparison to the rest of this album.
BROCKHAMPTON is a very unique group - per their partial founding on the forum KanyeToThe which has lead to their description as "the Internet's first boy band". With their dense, uniquely sampled track compositions and intensely varied vocal styles within the group, it's rare that I don't end up with my head nodding as I pace through their albums.
Although their member list is long and has morphed over time, the main contributors to this, most recent album are Kevin Abstract, Ameer Vann, Merlyn Wood, Dom McLennon, Matt Champion and Russell "JOBA" Boring. Production was primarily handled by Romil Hemnani and Q3, a production duo consisting of Kiko Merley and Jabari Manwarring.
I would be remiss not to mention at the outset the sheer velocity of this group. SATURATION came out in June of this year, with SATURATION II coming later, in August. Both are full length albums. Additionally, Abstract has said that they intend to release SATURATION III in December. This constitutes 3 full length, (and if all holds constant) great albums in one calendar year, which is nigh unrivaled in the hip-hop community today.
Moving into the actual review, I'd like to start at the highest level - enjoyment. I'm a big fan of almost every track on this album, and I think that, somewhat uniquely, most every element of this album could have held up as a single. The sampling style is derivative of much of classic hip-hop, but introduced are many elements that are significantly more modern. I'm a particularly big fan of the switch within the first 30 seconds of the intro track, "GUMMY". They exploit a similar technique at the outset of the track, "TOKYO," later on in the album, and in the middle of "JUNKY," later yet. These sort of stylistic swaps always keep me engaged in listening, even when I might be better served focusing on something other than what's in my ears.
Something that I find especially adds to my special perception of this album, and most of BROCKHAMPTON's work are the skits, stylized as SCENEs. Both of the skits on this album are fully in Spanish, the first one translating to a sort-of love letter to the speaker's perceived lost love. I'll admit that my Spanish is no where near good enough to have gleaned that just by listening, but I feel that that level of depth adds to the atmosphere of the album.
I think the most important track on the album, which I understand is an odd designation, is "JUNKY". In a music landscape where we more and more frequently see hip-hop artists and groups being accused of sexual harassment and assault, I find it refreshing to see two things from this track - a vehement opposition to sexual assault, very directly. In the latter part of the song, Matt Champion lays verses over a very hard-hitting beat about recognizing women as people in their own right, and respecting consent. Earlier, in the song, Kevin Abstract proudly brings up that he raps so commonly about his sexuality, "'Cause not enough niggas rap and be gay". He brings up that he struggled through an early life where his sexuality was a threat to his existence, very tangibly.
This is the crux of why I like this album for more than just how hard it slaps, excuse the slang. Within an album full of great tracks, the group finds time and space to address real, common issues of today. They keep their music pervasively relevant, while innovating their production and bringing in very modern and sometimes experimental musical techniques. Definite 9/10.
I've found that with the workload I've taken on recently, I can't do full reviews of audio gear as much as I'd like to. It's a reality to contend with, and in the face of that, I think it'd be a good idea to turn more of an eye towards music. Music was my original motivation behind reviewing audio gear, and my rigor towards it has only increased as this site has taken up more and more of my time. Album reviews seems like the most logical and tenable place to go, with that in mind. I'd like to think that with my background in music theory and practice, I have a valid perspective to offer here, but that's up to my readers - so we'll see!
In terms of motivation at a more granular level, I think I'll direct the majority of my time towards music that I enjoy, which is logical, I hope. I tend to stumble into a lot of music that isn't necessarily the most accessible, but that certainly isn't a hard-set reality. I'm also grateful to have a network of friends that never ceases to provide me with new and interesting music to listen to. This isn't to say that I'll avoid anything mainstream, and apologies if I'm coming across as hipster-ish or pretentious - I just like music a lot, and spend a tremendous portion of my time listening to it.
So, all that preface leads me to the first album which I'd like to give a perspective on. As indicated by the title of this post, that album would be "Art in the Age of Automation," the most recent album from Portico Quartet. Although their last album was a divergence from their normal instrumentation and style, with this, they have brought back on Keir Vine (who offers the hang drum instrumentation for which they have become known) and returned closer to their roots of jazz and jazz/electronic fusion.
This album ebbs and flows, saturated in electronically modified instrumentation. The intro track, "Endless" seems to swim through its ~4 minute runtime, with an undulating underlying bass-line which holds throughout. Another standout is "Objects to Place in a Tomb", which has a wonderful droning modulation of some horn in the background, and a very tasteful drum arrangement.
I would be remiss not to mention the uniqueness of the hang drum in their instrumentation. This rare instrument, visually similar to an inverted steel drum and tonally related, is certainly not the norm in a jazz quartet, even in free jazz. It's unique, percussively tonal addition is one of the reasons that I'm such a big fan of this group. Although it certainly flies in the face of traditional jazz (by a purist's standards, at least), I feel that their use of it as an integrated element is exciting and vitalizing. It adds a very soothing, engaging sound to a group that might not be as listenable without. As an introduction to less electronic, hang-integrated jazz, I highly recommend the group's debut album, "Knee Deep in the North Sea," which was Time Out's Jazz, Folk, and World album of the year in 2007, as well as Daniel Waples & Friends' album, "Lisn," both of which are very pleasant listens, and fairly accessible.
But more summarily, I feel that this album is an enticing and exciting addition to Portico Quartet's discography, and a much-appreciated shift back towards their previous works. The album isn't boring by any means, either, and features enough oddities and abnormalities to keep me actively listening, even as I write this. I give it a solid 8/10.