Brockhampton’s ‘Iridescence’ Is Pop Music for an Alternate Reality

Brockhampton is a rather difficult band to make sense of. They describe themselves as a “boy band,” which should already give you an idea of the bizarreness to expect, as this is not the ‘90s or early aughts, and the band isn’t from Korea. It’s not even really a band, more of a collective, with 13 members, including a web designer and photographer. Their liberal use of the word “band” is very much indicative of their take on music. They shuffle between styles with a disregard for compartmentalization that is both a bit hilarious and, ultimately, admirable. It’s a combination of hip-hop and a strain of pop that seems intended to embody the very ideal of pop, in all its ridiculous excess. Their new album, “Iridescence,” sees the departure of founding member Ameer Van, in light of a sex scandal, but there are enough voices on display here to make for a supersaturated extravaganza.

From the first track, “New Orleans,” this music is immediately, strikingly exciting because of the unique hodgepodge of styles, and the sheer energy and number of unique voices on display. There isn’t really any group on the current landscape that sounds quite like this. Hip-hop has taken an entirely different trajectory than you would have expected from the ‘90s, and Brockhampton seems to revision an alternate course. The rappers jump in with the type of goofy, hyperactive eccentricity that was commonplace in the days of flattops and “In Living Color.” This is without seeming throwback-ey, as the production is very current. There’s an off-kilter, droney, carnival-esque tone throughout that conjures the likes of Insane Clown Posse. At the point member Meryn Wood makes his entry, the song is just ridiculous in the level of its lunacy.

Next track, “Thug Life,” Brockhampton sounds like a different band altogether. It’s boy band fare, with vocal inflections that at times sound like the Korean bands who do their best to imitate American pop, and end up coming with a rather alien creation. The chorus sounds almost like Die Antwoord’s Yo-Landi, and the end of the song suddenly gets into the type of distortion that pretty much everyone shys away from, except from a select few of avant-garde niche artists like Jason Lescalleet. We’re talking distortion that sounds like something is seriously wrong with your audio system. At this point, everything is terribly confusing, and simultaneously wonderfully exhilarating, as this band is just being random, with no apparent concern for conforming to any genre category whatsoever.

“Something About Him” has Kevin Abstract singing a chorus that you would expect to be the sound of a woman singing, and he is, fittingly, singing about an ex-boyfriend. It looks like he’s altered his voice electronically, as there’s a certain drag to it that gives it a slightly robotic tone. Abstract has spoken of being influenced by Radiohead’s monumental classic “Kid A,” and it looks like he’s making a nod to that album’s title track with this vocal, although the feel of this music couldn’t be more removed from Radiohead. This is the stuff of glitz and glamour and a complete lack of reservations in terms of artistic impulse.   

“Where the Cash At” brings back the cartoonish ‘90s rap, and has a repeated vocal sample of rather sexy voice mumbling something indecipherable, which gives it a slightly surreal feel. “Weight” sounds like the work of someone who alternates between sitting on an LA beach with his guitar, and lacing up his Air Force Ones for extra color coordination. It devolves into a type of sappy rap, and then ends up in an outro that has echoes of “Wu Tang Forever”-era Wu Tang — or at least the feeling of that specific period, in a vague, but very palpable way. “District” is one of the most sonically exciting tracks, with a deliciously off-key synth line, and whimsical rapping. It sounds a bit like UK dubstep / grime artist Joker. “Tape” is striking in how unabashedly gay the lyrics are. Just ten years ago, no coherent person would have expect gay rappers to actually become a thing, so songs like this bare testament to the remarkable strives made in inclusivity, even in musical genres that have traditionally seemed unwelcoming.

“J’ouvert” is a total banger, with the band tapping into some really gangster, dim-lit, West Coast edgy rap fare. This track is so raw and hard, and it’s the work of a “boy band” with gay rappers. These guys are really redefining things. “Honey” is a punchy tune that features a sample from Beyonce’s 2011 song “Honey.” Like many of the other songs, it has several beat-shifts, and different phases that exhibit a certain adventurousness that you don’t see often in music that purports to be pure pop. “Vivid” is a sleek rap track, with Dom McLennon sounding a bit like Danny Brown in his verse, and bearface sounding again like Yo-Landi when he sings. “San Marcos” is a bit cringeworthy, the sound of guys scrunching up their lips into a tight phase, and trying to sound sensitive in a way that is very unbecoming, and even revolting. If you liked LFO’s “Summertime Girls,” in a completely unironic way, you might be able to stomach it. “Tonya” starts off sounding like over-enthusiastic Karaoke in a gay bar, then switches abruptly into more ‘90s-informed hip-hop, with an instrumental that’s particularly refined in it’s little details.It also has little bits of vocal melodies that somehow manage to strike as extremely infectious even though they only last for mere seconds. “Fabric” is a more introspective track, rather open-ended in sentiment, with the repeated line, “I don’t know these people” seeming quite fitting, as this band is so far removed from norms that they must feel a bit estranged.

Overall, this is a spectacular album, even if this music isn’t your cup of tea, simply because of how fluid and free it is in the way in hops genres and takes risks. Usually, the closer one identifies as a “pop” artist, the more they feel compelled to stick within rigid parameters. It’s the total opposite with Brockhampton. They present themself as a boy band, and display such a peerless, bold disregard for convention in the impulsive versatility of their music that they are entirely in a category of their own.

Iridescence” is available Sept. 21 on Apple Music.