Review Summary: Lost, found. Broken, healed.
I listened to ‘Ginger’ for the first time the other day when I drove an hour to Cincinnati to pick up a friend of mine I met online two years ago. Along with my best friend, and another internet pal from Tennessee, we met up together so we could hang out for a week. Naturally, it is proving to be a week of my life I’m never going to forget. What I’m getting at here is that I have no allusions, combined with the fact that I’m one of the biggest fans of ‘Brockhampton’ out there, I was an easy lay for this in every conceivable manner, as ‘Ginger’ is, if nothing else, a raw testament to something as juvenile and innocent as the power of friendship.
‘iridescence’ was my album of the year last year, despite it not quite rising to the collective praise of their ‘Saturation’ trilogy, which is understandable. It’s an odd duck of an album. Brockhampton made their name on being an eclectic, diverse, idiosyncratic, passionate, and youthful, so whatever you could consider their ‘definitive sound’ was vague at best due to the sheer variety of those albums. Even still, it’s an album that heavily dips into more psychedelic and glitch-heavy production to mirror the chaos and emotional turmoil the boys were undergoing at the time, riding the immense wave of success from their first three projects, losing notable member Ameer Vann under tragic circumstances, signing with RCA, and ultimately coming to the conclusion that even though their dreams came true, they couldn’t escape their problems. Last year I remember putting that album on at my absolute worst moments. I remember hearing Dom’s verse about being an ocean away from the people he loved, and at the time, all my friends save for one were so far away. Even the woman I loved. I’d drive from work or school alone late at night, go and catch a matinee by myself, and some nights and park in front of my local grocery store, listening to the final leg of the album and bawling like a baby.
To try and belabor this baggage a little less (this is a review, not an autobiography), Brockhampton are in sync with the problems of my generation. Every member a distinct unique voice with stories to tell, and they never abandon that authenticity, even when they’re being playful. ‘Ginger’ is an interesting beast in the respect that it feels more cohesive and glossy effort to date. It doesn’t have variety of Saturation, nor does it have the freight train of overwhelming chaos and despair beneath the veneer of ‘iridescence’
The reason I explain my emotional context for Brockhampton and this album is because it would be dishonest to say (or not say) otherwise. It’s inseparable. Brockhampton has been a band that known for experimenting with their already off the wall sound and energy that makes them unique, but their most consistent thru line is empathy. And Ginger is built on empathy.
From the moment ‘No Halo’ starts, it becomes apparent that Brockhampton are trying something new, and even in this case, a bit more mainstream. Now, doing this to your sound may ‘soften’ it or sand off the edges, which would result in a sense of alienation, but make no mistake, Brockhampton isn’t selling out, their just using the airy alt-R&B sound often found in artists like Frank Ocean or even Drake, to disguise their ever present personality. And the result is something really special.
If ‘iridescence’ was about fracturing and being lost, ‘Ginger’ is it’s thematic antithesis. It answers the question they were so preoccupied with on their last album: what do we do now?
The answer is what they’ve always done. Keep making music that fires on all cylinders until they find themselves.
To backtrack to the opener, this is easily the most downbeat of all of their opening tracks. Typically that spot on the album is reserved for a ‘Gummy’ or ‘Boogie’ that goes hard and doesn’t let up, but here, it’s a ballad-style rotation of the issues the boys find themselves with, backed with a hook so indicative of this album and so beautiful it’s sure to hit well with BH fans like ‘Milk’ or ‘Tonya’ did. The acoustic guitar and sunths make for a perfect encapsulation of their current model for their sound, which leads directly into ‘Sugar’, a slower but blissful autotune-heavy cut very reminiscent of ‘Thug Life’ in a lot of ways.
That is to say, the fun, amicable, and sillier side of the band is still very much here, immediately shown on the third track ‘Boy Bye’ and others like ‘If you Pray Right’ which balances out the more heavy cuts. I can’t get enough of that funky, whack-ass horn on the beat of ‘If you Pray Right’, coupled with the ever expressive lyricism and flows. In fact, that’s one thing on the album that legitimately floored me, with the exception of Kevin, who isn’t without his shining moments of course, but backs into a more quiet and subdued attitude here, which makes sense as he’s the de facto frontman, representing the album as a whole well, but everyone else? ***. Their flows are amazing, varied, fast, clever, and it almost becomes difficult to absorb at points. They’ve grown a lot in such a short time, and it’s really admirable to see if you’ve followed them since the beginning. Joba in particular, who absolutely stole the show alongside Kevin on ‘iridescence’ is proving himself to be super versatile here as well. Dom has always been BH’s resident poet and top tier lyricist, and makes up for his scant (If highly memorable) from the last album, even getting a show stopping angry verse on ‘Dearly Departed’.
Saying this is a ‘new direction’ for their sound might actually not be the operative word. It’s really more of a synthesis of all that came before it. You can hear a lot of Saturation 1’s dreamy vibe and Saturation 3’s experimental leanings, and the almost formless song structure with hooks casually strewn about from iridescence, alongside the final leg of the album reserving itself for the more emotionally poignant moments too. It’s like the more lush string-heavy sounds on iridescence without the coupling with the trippy psychedelia, probably giving us the closest look at whatever was originally supposed to follow up Saturation 3 before the Ameer drama, but the growth from that situation is evident as well. It’s essentially an album entirely filled of songs like ‘Milk’ or ‘San Marcos’ that all feel like a collective musical group hug from your favorite aspiring musical legends. It’s a fantastic companion piece to their previous work, and only makes me more excited to see what they’ll do next, because so far, they haven’t let me down in the slightest.
If the album has any shortcomings, it’s that while I think it’s a logical progression of their sound, it’s not the instant breath of fresh air that iridescence was, and more than likely won’t prove to be as rewarding and dense as that venture proved to be, even if I find it to have an easier, more accessible sound that will be far less off putting and strange. Being invested in the band’s narrative also helps a bit as well, but I know fellow fans are more than likely up to date with all that. While different, I wouldn’t say it’s different enough to convert anyone on their music if they didn’t already vibe with it. Not saying this is a full blown ‘it’s for the fans’ cause I’ve always found that to be bs, but I’m just saying, this isn’t a change that I think will invite many new people who were previous BH agnostics.
Brockhampton may have not grown up yet, Hell most of them are my age and barely stumbled over adulthood, but I think this progression is more a sign that they’ve finally reconciled their youth, and have finally begun the path to their next steps. I really can’t think of a better send off to this moody, quirky, and in many ways, mature album, than the final track, ‘Victor Roberts’ a song where long time friend of Dom McLennon, the titular Roberts, raps about his current life situation and how difficult it is, a somber synth chord playing as he explains how difficult he finds his predicament, until the second half kicks in with the vocal harmonies of various Brockhampton members exclaiming how thankful they are to have their friends in their life. At first this was a creative choice that I didn’t understand, as Brockhampton’s theming can sometimes be obtuse and scattershot in the context of a whole album, but I think I get it now.
Because Victor Roberts is who Brockhampton makes music for. And to some extent, we are all Victor Roberts. Thank God for my friends indeed.