Review: Brockhampton, Saturation / Saturation II

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Brockhampton album covers

Boy bands and girl groups usually coalesce as the result of some entity behind the scenes pulling the strings together. From the Monkees to Destiny’s Child to Girls’ Generation, pop groups get placed together often not of their own volition but because someone, a parent or record label, believes they make a good fit. This formula does often earn great results; if you’ve ever heard “Say My Name” or “I Got a Boy”, you know execs possess the capability of furnishing a hit.

But “boy band,” artistic collective, and community Brockhampton takes the concept and reverses its traditional trajectory, deciding they want to create music as a unit rather than relying on the man’s approval or guidance. Primarily formed through a forum dedicated to Kanye West, Brockhampton came together really as a result of outsiders who identified more with their heroes than those in proximity to them. Producer Romil Hemnami told Dazed “a lot of us grew up not really identifying with the people around us, but more with these people we looked up to, like Frank Ocean and Kid Cudi. And it just seems right to pass that on.”

This statement makes sense in the context of the group’s two monster albums released in 2017, Saturation and Saturation II, where the members of the “Southside One Direction” air their grievances at the world around them in ways that makes it all feel like a joke only the boys of Brockhampton are in on. These are thumpers that provoke thought. The boys of Brockhampton are keenly aware they're doing something different, from recreating what it means to be a boy band to what it means to be a successful adult. “Sweet” off of II demonstrates this perfectly, mocking the teachers of their past who tried to shove degrees down their throats in order to be “successful.” Unapologetically ethnic, angry, queer, and especially youthful, both projects highlight a convergence of ideas and genres, streamlined into perfect vessels for listening.

“I’m addicted to writing shit that make niggas scared of us,” they declare on Saturation’s “Bank” and it’s an apt description. With an intro track descending into promises to “break your neck so you can watch your back,” who wouldn’t walk away feeling a little nervous? These guys wanna shake up the game, and now that they’ve gotten your attention, they use it to draw you in.

Much of both records’ brilliance revolves around whizkid Kevin Abstract, who enters one track playfully pitch-shifted only to emerge on another crooning for a past love. He knows his fate simply lies in whatever direction he decides to aim it, made known on “Trip” when he announces his intention to be whomever he likes. However, Abstract never makes it seem like such opportunities lie out of reach for anyone else: “It’s a boy fantasy/It’s a girl fantasy” shows this to be a universal feeling, and one that anyone can adopt should they so choose.

But Abstract’s excellence never reduces those of his bandmates, who all bring something different to the collective as a whole. Singers Joba and Bearface give us lofty vocals that dip into the sounds of indie pop and R&B past; Joba’s earnest delivery on Saturation’s “Face” would make sense on a Glass Animals or Rhye record and his might as well be JT on the quick-footed “Tokyo”, while Bearface goes full Frank Ocean on tracks closing both records, “Waste” and “Summer”. Meanwhile, rapper Ameer Vann sports a deep, mature-beyond-his-years voice that demands attention, drawing you in only to tease your sensibilities: his delivery on “Sweet” rhymes all up until its conclusion when he makes it “to the front seat switching the gears.” It’s a spectacular tease which only speaks further to the genius present in this collective. But to delve into each Brockhampton member’s talents requires an individual piece on each of them, for a single review does not provide sufficient room for them all.

Though entirely independent and solid records on their own, Saturation and II both act as testaments to massive talents coming together to create something even more magnificent. That being said, the boys admitted to making Saturation in a literal month, and surprised themselves with how great it sounds. Such a confidence boost is evident in II where not only do more of the tracks stand out, such as “Jello” and “Queer”, they possess a bit more adventure, dipping into Indian influences and PC music pitch shifts to create tracks with equal parts heart and individuality. Where Saturation feels more upfront, II feels more mischievous, a willingness to twist things to their own perception. In a world ruled by the Internet, where attention spans last as long as it takes to refresh your newsfeed, Brockhampton figured out how to keep it, bouncing between references towards addiction, Final Fantasy, homophobia, and Whataburger. Brockhampton understands how to get your attention: by addressing all the shit that’s taking up yours right this moment. It makes things a little dizzying to keep up with, but isn’t everything in 2017 a bit bewildering?

You’re honestly best off making these conclusions listening to both records. After all, Brockhampton began as a result of these young men gathering to tell their story in their own way, and by no means can anyone tell it as well as they do. Saturation: B MINUS / Saturation II: A MINUS