As Saturation III draws to a close, Belfast-born Ciarán Ruaridh McDonald (aka bearface) sings a forlorn song to a mysterious Evanie over the type of tender balladry that has prettily wrapped up both of its predecessors. Hazy reverb-soaked guitars collide like before, but this time BROCKHAMPTON have loftier ambitions.
The guitars fade and the group’s hip-hop impulses soon unearth themselves. Each member trades despondent verses before the trilogy becomes one in matrimony thanks to a looped sample from the first Saturation’s opener ‘HEAT’ – everything comes full-circle.
Instead of three unique projects, Saturation is one unpunctuated artistic statement. One that has little regard for labels, stereotypes, genres and orthodoxy. Carefree self-expression has catapulted them to a higher plateau but their progress indicates that their creativity and scope are boundless.
If Saturation was a myriad of boundary-pushing ideas, Saturation II was it’s more mature older sibling – novel ideas more fleshed out and better executed. Saturation III weaponises everything they’ve come to explore thus far and bends them to create even more experimental sounds. They distill this with unrefined, raw lyricism and incredibly punchy hooks to produce their most cohesive release yet.
‘BOOGIE’, the album’s enormous perturbed opener, is packed with pulsating sirens, off-kilter saxophone screams and energetic individual performances. A cacophony of sounds that aptly captures BROCKHAMPTON’s unrelenting and blithe approach to hit-making, in other words, WDGAF. Kevin Abstract’s defiant hook incinerates the track. “I’ve been beat up my whole life//I’ve been shot down, kicked down twice//Ain’t no stopping me tonight//Ima get all the things I like”.
BROCKHAMPTON place a lot of stock in their album openers. The knuckle-gnashing, venomous industrial hip-hop of ‘HEAT’ memorably started proceedings on the first outing while its follow-up Saturation II commenced with an unapologetically fun and gritty g-funk banger in ‘GUMMY’.
Quirky, experimental nuances are stamped all over again – beats are rinsed in unorthodox synth passages, distorted and melted vocals and colourful sound effects. No track better captures the group’s inclinations for abstraction more than ‘SISTER / NATION’ and its beat-switch, a beautiful dichotomy of sounds and ideas.
The architect is Kevin Abstract – a 21-year-old visionary, creative director and un-ironic number one fan of Harry Styles – whose musical influences underline everything you hear. His penchant for hooks are equally indebted to mainstream pop sensibilities as they are to hip-hop choruses. Think Nelly Furtado meets Frank Ocean, with unabashed lyrics about being gay and black, he is as much a rapper as a sultry R&B crooner.
The production, as with all of their releases, pays homage to Timbaland-era pop soundscapes and Neptune’s bounciness with unpredictably hooking rhythms and grooves. Even more immediately, the synth-laden ‘STAINS’ sounds like a bastardisation of Wolf-era Tyler, the Creator.
‘STAINS’ crescendos from synthy pop-rap into off-the-wall, pounding house-music theatrics with the sweetly sung refrain “Be there any minute//I be on it any day” repeating itself, sugarcoating the insane instrumental. Among many stand-out moments, it’s a show of true musical bravado.
‘RENTAL’ might just reveal itself to be BROCKHAMPTON’s most inescapable track yet, brimmed with hollow drums, a glossy machinated bassline, melodic piano loop and brought together with a truly BROCKHAMPTON-esque sonic charm. Produced by Q3, a duo of in-house producers Kiko Merley and Jabari Manwa, along with the gifted Romil Hemnani.
Hemnani has production credits on all but two tracks, his unique vision of how BROCKHAMPTION should sound is understated with many other group members vocalising and taking centre-stage. His raw talent in creating equally abstract and infectious beats make him the chief orchestrator behind Kevin Abstract.
Matt Champion is the group’s fashionably slick flow auteur. Ameer Van, privy to internet memes about his versatility (or lack thereof), is the group’s darker street rapper. Dom McLennon is your favourite 90’s rapper’s favourite member, the group’s most potent wordsmith. JOBA, bearface and the lovably off-kilter Merlyn Wood all play equal parts in a group project that’s as much about chemistry as individualism and unique voices.
The rhymes and lyrics deal with few tropes or concepts, they prefer directness and simplicity. Van’s lyrics are often caught up too much in telling with little regard for showing. In ‘LIQUID’, he raps nonchalantly: “I grew up all alone, my mom and dad fighting // I moved around a lot, I did a lot of fighting // I met my friend Ian, I seen a lot of cyphers”.
Thematically, the album is not new territory. Despite this potential pitfall, all three Saturation rely on an interplanetary intuition – each release flowing almost identically. This, however, makes it even more feasible to grasp the trilogy as one concrete musical venture.
Labels are something this group of twenty-something outcasts have ran from all their lives with countless references to loneliness and adolescent alienation, yet it’s their unblinking aim to detach themselves from expectation that makes them so exciting.
It is both the end and the beginning for BROCKHAMPTON, one of music’s most exciting and breezily honest acts. The indomitable boyband have mainstream appeal and burgeoning talent, and have their many eyes on One Direction’s uninhabited throne.