Courtesy of RCA Records.

November 21, 2022

‘iridescence’: Long Live Brockhampton

Print More

Content Warning: This article includes mentions of sexual assault and domestic violence. 

BROCKHAMPTON is dead. The thirteen-member collective, which took the internet by storm in 2017 with its SATURATION trilogy, announced an end to its twelve-year-long run in January. Their final albums, The Family and TM, released on back-to-back nights earlier this month. It feels more pertinent now than ever to examine the band’s last brush with collapse – iridescence, their oft-forgotten refusal to be put in the ground.

The release of iridescence followed the departure of vocalist Ameer Vann from the group in response to allegations of statutory r*pe and domestic abuse. This revelation came at a vulnerable time for BROCKHAMPTON. The band had just come off of their peak from SATURATION III, the final installment of their successful album trilogy, and needed to prove longevity past the eclipse of that era. This task appeared impossible after the scandal; given the popularity of Ameer’s verses on the band’s early songs, fans were quick to say that his removal was “the day BROCKHAMPTON died.”

What really brings our attention to that particular moment of their rise is a recent tweet of the iridescence cover art from band leader Kevin Abstract to celebrate the fourth year since the album’s release. The fondness with which he looks back on the album is reminiscent of another tweet from last year, this time more controversial and since deleted: “Iridescence is our best album but y’all will never understand.” He’s right that iridescence never had its moment in the limelight — it’s the only post-2017 BROCKHAMPTON release that The Sun has yet to review.

In defiance of the public’s widespread doubt and high expectations, “NEW ORLEANS” starts the album with a relentless bang. The song’s production includes an uncomfortable, borderline obnoxious loop of buzzing. Yet the vocals, in their stylistic variety, justify the grating production. The chaos lends space for the vocalists to intrude with their distinctive approaches, from the effortless flow of Dom McClennon to the charismatic over-enunciation of Matt Champion. And by displaying their diversity in this way, they make it apparent that Ameer was a redundant cog in a versatile machine.

It’s in the transition to “THUG LIFE” that an essential mechanism of the album becomes clear. The track directly repurposes soundbites from the preceding song but in a newly graceful context with a sweet piano melody. The album’s pendulum swings, track to track, between these two tones — a grimy, furious enthusiasm and the type of nostalgic vulnerability that brings you to tears.

“WEIGHT” is of the album’s sweeter side, swung back from the harshness of “WHERE THE CASH AT.” It’s a standout amongst the first half of the album with a gnarly, fast-paced beat switch from a slow violin melody. The lyrics’ confessions of inward pressure feel appropriate to the production (“Pressure makes me lash back, wish I could get past that). “DISTRICT” carries on the vulnerable tone for a moment, only to harshly dismantle it. Depressing verses (“Praise God, hallelujah! / I’m still depressed) read over an unforgiving beat as if to say, “Life is tough; fuck it, we ball!”

iridescence often preaches doom, the inevitability of hardship and failure, but that’s not to say that it’s a simple prescription of nihilism. Look to the catchy, house-adjacent “HONEY,” an upbeat track that embodies perseverance. Kevin reminds us that fear is out of our control and that we should instead look toward the “million reasons to get rich.” The production blossoms into a gorgeous R&B song, layering samples upon itself over time. It makes an unpredictable transformation into one of the most uplifting, impactful tracks of the album.

From “HONEY” forward, the album refuses to relent in its ingenious production and tear-jerking lyricism. “VIVID,” another standout, unlocks the final piece of iridescence’s thematic puzzle. Dom references the album’s title for the first time: “got my reflection iridescent / Every little moment I step in might shift the planet’s direction.” This is precisely the aim of the project – to shift uncomfortably between the band’s propensity to aggravate and soothe. Each track inverses the lingering tone of the previous, turning sweet into sour, then back into sweet. Dom presents this strategy with pride, to say that the collective is powerful and brilliant enough to make these dramatic shifts with the smallest of steps. Iridescence, being the property of changing appearance from slight changes in perspective, can describe BROCKHAMPTON’s approach to pressure — this constant swing between vulnerability and zeal.

But almost always, the approach is hopeful. In the beautiful “SAN MARCOS,” a choir repeats insistently, “I want more out of life than this.” It’s a hopeless phrase out of context but sung with heartbreaking optimism. They don’t mean, “Life is bad as it is, I don’t like it.” It sounds more like, “There is more to have from life, and I will have it.”

iridescence leverages that high by bringing you to tears with its final two tracks, like a one-two punch. “TONYA,” for one, might be the best of the album. It starts with a nostalgic, suspenseful piano melody and a soulful chorus only to escalate into harder-hitting yet still-vulnerable verses from Kevin, Dom and Merlyn Wood with a swinging beat and some bizarre strings. “FABRIC” raises an anticipatory beat in the mix over looping sirens, only to let that tension dissipate for a completely distinct snippet with the last words we hear: “These are the best years of our lives.”

BROCKHAMPTON knew that its days were numbered. The band’s fragility in the face of public controversy proved to its members that it could not maintain its longevity. Even the critical success of their most recent album releases, Roadrunner and GINGER, was not enough to keep the band together. But, from iridescence, we know the kind of beauty that pressure can bring out of the artists of BROCKHAMPTON. That is what we should keep in mind as we tune in to The Family, follow their solo careers and reflect on the beautiful discography that the band left for us. Long live BROCKHAMPTON.

Eric Han is a freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at [email protected]