Sunday, February 4, 2018

Brockhampton - Saturation III Review

When you're on the outside looking in, it's easy to hate. Admittedly, that's where I've been with Brockhampton, the insta-cult boy band who took 2017 by storm with their Saturation trilogy. To many, they're Hip-Hop's Internet visionaries, leading the community in its new wave of boundary-less global domination through data streams. Odd Future on steroids. To me, they're a collective of average artists exceeding expectation off confidence, consumption, and hype alone. To make a long story short; Saturation III doesn't alter that perception. It does, however, lessen the divide, presenting material that rises to the occasion rather than keeling over and allowing fan obsession to carry momentum. No, it doesn't stray from Saturation I or II's formula whatsoever. But with III acting as the final in a trilogy, the thought of the Saturation tapes as triple album eases concerns that any and all tracks, on any and all iterations, could be swapped interchangeably amongst each other. Now, they work as a cohesive unit rather than a redundant bunch. It'll be up to 2018's proposed LP Team Effort to buck the trend, or succumb to attrition.

There came a time when listening to Saturation III that my enjoyment on a moment-to-moment basis overcame my eagerness to further extend my dislike of the group, by proxy of their incessant fanbase. Like the projects that came beforehand, Saturation III begins with a bang, one that eclipses previous openers 'HEAT' and 'GUMMY.' It is incredibly hard to dislike 'BOOGIE,' a rambunctious affair that matches the tonality of Brockhampton as a whole. There's zany production that never ceases, a catchy hook that's largely nonsensical, a bridge that sports their 'started from the bottom' mentality, and verses that back that up with outrageous personalities. A classic case of a track so over-the-top it can't help but work. It's basically a crisper take on the blown-out proportions of 'BUMP.' 'ZIPPER' follows that theatrical procession with a Willy Wonka-esque nuttiness that's basically the group's blue paint absurdity in music form. This time around, it's easier to criticize though, on account of the attempted masking of lazy bars through annoying quirks (Merlyn Wood, I'm looking at you).

What Brockhampton has always struggled with, and continues to here, is their inability to string their wildly-deviating topics together. At the end of the day, no Saturation has sounded cohesive because the various members can never commit to consistency. Some enjoy that erraticism; I don't. This can best be seen in III's weak middling portion, something that has ruined the previous LP's as well. There's always a streak, isn't there? Whether it's 'BOYS' to 'BANK,' 'SWAMP' to 'CHICK,' or 'STUPID' to 'ALASKA,' Brockhampton always seems to run in place when the album's foundation needs its strongest legs. I mean really, by all accounts 'STUPID' concerns itself with the menial day-do-day life of a social media goer. The hook ("boys wanna play with my cellphone / but I don't want nobody to see what's in it") doesn't help either. III does benefit from a relatively shortened tracklist though, one that's one track shorter than II and two shorter than I. Brevity rarely hurts output, with III benefiting greatly from it.

That's because the group curtailed the middling portion whilst retaining the bombast of the first third and the titillation of the last. There is one bothersome point early on that I need to make mention of though, and it essentially ruins 'LIQUID.' Not only does "I was playing rock, paper, scissors with imaginary friends / imagine having no friends" sound awful through Kevin Abstract's autotune, it's basically the Hip-Hop equivalent of Arcade Fire's often-mocked "infinite content, infinite content, we're infinitely content." Extremely poor songwriting. But I digress. 

The insanely under-appreciated production team at Brockhampton really put together some of their best work here, as seen on the jumpy and gradual 'HOTTIE,' the aforementioned 'BOOGIE,' and III's standout track 'SISTER / NATION.' Excluding the phenomenal 'JUNKY,' Brockhampton has never been this good at combining their fluid discord with relatively conscious lyrics. 'SISTER' is a near-rapturous riot, with a myriad of performers putting in their best work, especially Matt Champion through his standout verse. The first time I've been impressed by his rapping ability. Lastly, 'STAINS' finds the group at their most mellow and reflective, due in large part to Ameer Vann's lead. The tame production really compliments the style, although Ashlan Grey's meta interlude pointing out all the members' respective cliches (all true, mind you) is irritating and unnecessary. Every time Brockhampton pulls away from those cliches, any one-off member brings them back in. Maturity will help reduce those persistent eye rolls though, as we've seen with Tyler, The Creator and Flower Boy


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