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BROCKHAMPTON explores fame and mental health on "iridescence"

"Best boy band since One Direction." "The world's best boy band."

Thus describes BROCKHAMPTON, a massive collective of young men whose ragtag chemistry and energetic hip-hop garnered early acclaim and a dedicated fan base. Musically, they reside in a modernized hybrid of decades of rap tradition. On their social media feeds, they feed the flames of stans so interactive and cliquey that it rivals the rabid tweens normally associated with "boy bands."

After last year's creative explosion that resulted in the fantastic "SATURATION" trilogy and a multi-million dollar cosign with RCA, BROCKHAMPTON seemed poised to take over the world. But their momentum slowed to a crawl with sexual and emotional abuse allegations against member Ameer Vann. After a painfully long silence, the group removed Ameer from the group, and plans for an early-summer album collapsed. This journey led us to "iridescence," a major-label debut that is their most difficult and insular release yet.

Group dynamics have shifted since "SATURATION," for better and worse. Kevin Abstract once supplied the catchiest hooks, and thus seemed to be the group's most recognizable member. On "iridescence," the hooks are more subdued and split among the group, so Kevin often feels like this album's wallflower.

On the other hand, Joba, whose manic combination of rapping and singing made him an interesting but gimmicky wild card, takes a lead role on "iridescence." His rageful verse on lead single "J'OUVERT" and emotional turns on "TONYA" and "TAPE" are album highlights.

Matt Champion neither impresses nor disappoints. Dom McLennon cements his status as the group's most verbose lyricist. Merlyn's idiosyncratic presence feels more impactful, and Bearface doesn't continue his tradition of closing the album with his own sweet guitar R&B track, instead being relegated to sharing hooks with Kevin and unexciting raps sprinkled throughout.

Once BROCKHAMPTON perfects their group dynamic, they will unlock their full potential. But even when some members outshine others, the music remains consistently intriguing.

The "SATURATION" trilogy was filled with smooth beats and bars exuding effortless cool. "iridescence" lacks the relaxed feel of hits "GOLD" and "SWEET" or the rambunctious quality of tracks like "BOOGIE." The bass is heavier and often distorted, overlaid with wailing synths and chopped instrumentals and vocals. Even the songs with the most banger potential, like "J'OUVERT" or "WHERE THE CASH AT," are undercut with a sinister energy. There's little cheer to be found across the album.

The darker cuts and ballads support the album's running theme of fame's pitfalls, and mental and emotional hardship. Songs about fame aren't a rarity, especially in the rap community, but BROCKHAMPTON's sincerity makes up for it: "I hated songs about fame 'cause that stuff meant nothin' / Until them headlines came in," Kevin raps on "TONYA." The interlude "LOOPHOLE" discusses scams in the recording industry and betrayal by friends. On opener "NEW ORLEANS," Matt seems to reference the Ameer controversy when he says "Who you keep around now? That's a big reflection."

Elsewhere, each member deals with their personal issues. Merlyn, a Ghana native, tackles the loss of his traditions to Christianity and America in the opener. On standout track "WEIGHT," Kevin, Joba and Dom divulge the titular weight mounted on their shoulders, whether it be insecurities or expectations placed by the public, and the group itself.

It's very telling that "iridescence" was recorded in just 10 days at Abbey Road Studio. The lyrics feel like they were written in such a short time. The lyricism isn't bad; it simply shows that there were certain topics on their mind in this short period, and not much else. The hooks could've used more fine-tuning, the excessive vocal pitching gets tiresome and the strange, choppy production tinkering sometimes sounds more messy than interesting.

BROCKHAMPTON is reportedly planning yet another trilogy of records. Ambition is a welcome trait, especially in a collective with so much talent. The "SATURATION" trilogy succeeded because it got the group from the underground to a major label. But the best tracks from these three mixtapes could have made one truly special record. "iridescence" doesn't lack great moments, but they are spread amongst otherwise passable tracks. The fantastic debut from America's favorite boy band might arrive soon. You might just have to dig through three pretty good albums to find it.

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3.5/5 stars