Reviews | Brockhampton | Saturation III
Updated: Mar 25, 2020
The eccentric third album from hip hop 'boyband' Brockhampton deserves a member-by-member analysis...
Brockhampton have received a lot of praise as the boyband for a new, progressive age, with a queer frontman, lyrics that often address identity politics and, as a 14-person collective all living under one roof in Van Nuys, California, having some sort of psuedo-socialist vibe too. However, their unsettling, erratically pitched techno-panicky beats, JOBA’s modulated vocals and Henock “HK” Sileshi’s colorful meta music videos make them feel not like the boyband for today but the boyband of the future. There’s something about that fuzzy high pitched synth sound and Kanye-modeled bleeping that feels beyond human, like each and every one of these individuals is not an artistic savante but entirely crazy, and the exposure gets you empathetically riled up in their mania too. Depending on the quality of your headphones Saturation III feels like you’re stuck in the dust-filled creases of a 1971 Oregon Trail floppy disk, or in the booming and buzzing dark room of a supercomputer, scratching against metal, being deconstructed and put back together again, all with a forward-thinking batch of nerds staring in at you. It’s in that world that the little android robots that are Brockhampton roll around with you on Saturation III, pushing and pulling you until you’re maybe just as confused as they are.
But if you’re a fan of Brockhampton you know it’s about more than just the music. They’re a boyband for god’s sake, and the cinematography of their videos, characters they play, and outfits they wear hold just as much importance. You swoon over Matt Champion (who is, as I witnessed when he snuck past me into the exit of a club in Los Angeles, delightfully short in the best, Tom Cruise-y kind of way), you idolize ringleader Kevin Abstract and patiently wait for his 30-years-off autobiography, you search for a man that dresses like Merlyn. And as for Ameer, well, some part of you wishes your boyfriend seemed half as experienced. Everything fits perfectly together until you watch too closely - your heart sinks and rises with every 140 characters the (dirty, filthy liar) Kevin Abstract tweets, saying this is their last album or just the start, saying there will be no singles until he drops two unexpectedly, saying there will be no solo albums until, presumably, there will be--and then you hear Saturation III and wonder if you’re disconnected entirely. That being said, an analysis of the damn thing (but, endearingly, member by member):
Romil Hemnani, Bearface, and Q3 [Jabari Manwa and Kiko Merley]: This album is by far the best produced; the clarity of each separate sample and beat is impeccable and the multilayered sounds bounce back and forth like bullets, chopping your brain to mush. ‘Sister/Nation’ (and especially the ‘Sister’ half) is most definitely the highlight, with super-fast syncopations driving you on some kind of Mario Kart-gone-Deathgrips six minute marathon. Jingling track ‘Rental’ also deserves recognition for the contrast between melodic fuzzy synths and crisp tapping 808s, and ‘Liquid’ for it’s atypical 90s feel. This album also marks the introduction for Brockhampton experimenting with orchestral cello and horn samples, which is an thrilling development beyond their go-to unnerving squeaks and driving deep bass.
Kevin Abstract: What he lacks in sheer number of verses he makes up with hooks on the album, acting more as the glue to tie songs together. A humble mascot, his most profound moments appear when he plays the role of his younger child self, his voice so distorted and brightened that it’s not even recognizable as anything other than an ambiguous 5-year-old boy. However, it’s that voice that makes this album most distinctive, adding a perfect topical layer of horror movie-style creepiness as he raps about his own success on ‘Sister/Nation’ about acid on ‘Johnny’ or imaginary friends on ‘Liquid.’
Ameer Vann: Though Vann’s old school slick style remains consistent, he’s in his element with some of the slower grinding tracks on the album. ‘Johnny,’ which feels like how A Tribe Called Quest would sound were they making an album in 2017, feels made for him as he slides in under metallic trumpet samples effortlessly. But, it’s on the following tracks, ‘Liquid’ and ‘Stupid’ where Vann really hits his stride, the “black man with a deadly weapon”’s slow growl really seizing ‘Stupid’’s trajectory after Merlyn’s particularly attention grabbing yell-chanting, which isn’t an easy feat.
Matt Champion: With each album Champion moves more and more to the frontline, having the most verses of any member on Saturation III. With each delivery his voice oozes in confidence, and at points (“come fuck with me and my dogs,” for example, on ‘Zipper’) you can quite literally hear the corners of his mouth curve up in a cocky smile. But it’s his serious moments on ‘Stains’ that are really captivating, rapping about youth addicted to heroin and depression in perfect triplets until he ultimately breaks rhythm for the somber line, “tickin’ till I off myself.” His surprisingly fast-paced assault on elitism and wannabes on ‘Sister/Nation’ is equally core-striking as well.
Merlyn Wood: The only rapper who falls short on this album is Merlyn, losing his natural speaking voice almost entirely in favor of his previously sparing, now nearly cartoonish hollering. Annoying at worst, it does drive the beginning of ‘Sister/Nation’ well, as he takes a starring role with his nonsensical lyrics and distinctive staccato vocal pattern.
JOBA [Russell Boring]: Most of all, this outlandish album is only catching up to JOBA, still managing to out-strange the group with his verse on mania, multiple personality disorder, or maybe just psychopathy on ‘Sister/Nation.’ Like Saturation II, his standout moments are the most unnerving, where he manages to push the boundaries of cool beyond composed and into frenzy and rage.
The Singers: Bearface [Ciaran Rauridh McDonald] and backup vocalist Ryan Beaty: I’ve never really enjoyed the slower ballads like ‘Jesus’ on Saturation II or ‘Swim’ on Saturation, but those on this album are on their way to becoming anthems for a generation. ‘Bleach’ in particular, with it’s fading, flattening instrumental is stunning, and Beaty’s hook, despite all its vagueness about “the feeling,” has a chest-driven delivery that’s absolutely heart wrenching.
If Saturation was made to break into the scene and Saturation II has the party-ready slaps, Saturation III is for the fans: their most abstract, their most experimental, and by far their weirdest. At first listen it’s incredibly off putting - the evil-clown rhythm of ‘Zipper’ coming off as some tacky and unwanted German polka after spending months waiting for more digestible hits along the lines of Saturation II’s ‘Sweet’ and ‘Gummy.’ The childishly voiced intro for ‘Johnny’ excites you until the rest of the song sounds entirely different. And the three interludes, ‘Cinema’ 1, 2, and 3, feel entirely excessive. But then, if you know their music, if you’ve watched their Viceland series, if you’ve learned enough about them from following their social media accounts that you feel like you know them personally, then it grows on you. There are some weak points I still don’t get, and I’m not afraid to admit it, but in the span of their 3-album-in-a-year discography it fills the hole where something totally new and experimental needed to be, and now that we know Kevin was lying when he said this would be their last studio album, I’m left all the more excited for what’s to come.
The Quietus Link: https://thequietus.com/articles/23793-brockhampton-saturation-iii-review