Ater a two-year hiatus, Brockhampton has returned with their penultimate studio album Roadrunner: New Light, New Machine. Although the thirteen-member juggernaut returned with fire in their bellies, this sixth studio album wears too many hats, following up pop-inspired bops with soul-wrenching emotions and professions.
Brockhampton’s successful Saturation trilogy thrust them into the spotlight back in 2017, but it would be remiss to say they haven’t looked back. The trilogy is not perfect, but America’s boy band has successfully captivated a large audience. While the audience was, well, saturated in Brockhampton beats and good vibes, the band unintentionally segmented itself into a niche. Fans, after receiving three hours worth of songs in six months, naturally wanted more from the pop / hip-hop tridecagon, which inevitably put the pressure on the group to release even more music. Evidence of this overwhelming pressure rears its head in following LPs iridescence and Ginger.
After their swift leap into fame, Brockhampton experienced a myriad of controversies, including the decision to abandon group-founder Ameer Vann after learning of his sexual abuse allegations. This catastrophic blow rocked Brockhampton’s collective core, and the ripples are still felt today. Vann’s influence, palpable throughout the Saturation trilogy, vanished — leaving the group to pick up the pieces.
Iridescence, Brockhampton’s fourth studio album, suffers from the same issue as Fall Out Boy’s MANIA did in 2018. Encapsulating the frustration of Brockhampton, iridescence feels like a bass-heavy fever dream, tangible after the first ten seconds of the initial track “New Orleans.” The project urges you to walk away, as maybe some fans did. Thankfully, Ginger, the group’s next attempt, seemingly purges all of their anger, frustration, and sadness on mainly somber ballads and sonically dreary production, paving the way for a glorious return with Roadrunner: New Light, New Machine.
Cohesion, while not entirely a necessity, is not Brockhampton’s strong suit — but is that a surprise for a group that has enough members to take on Gonzaga or Baylor? There are simply too many mouths to feed and it shows. That’s not to say the project is a flop by any means — on the contrary, Roadrunner is a partial return to form for Brockhampton.
Pre-release tracks “Buzzcut” featuring Danny Brown and “Count On Me” featuring A$AP Rocky, SoGoneSoFlexy, and (uncredited vocals from) Shawn Mendes align more closely with the Saturation trilogy — a well-encouraged endeavor. These tracks act as Brockhampton’s first real flirtation with guest features, and the tracks shine brightly with these additions. Small traces of iridescence and Ginger are apparent — take what you will from that.
JPEGMAFIA joins in on “Chain On” and proves himself another worthy addition. Bandmate Dom McLennon takes charge on the second verse, maintaining JPEG’s momentum. One apparent caveat rooted in this track is the mind-numbing five part beat that perpetuates the entire three-and-a-half minute effort. A complete expulsion or an overhaul of this nauseating beat would slide “Chain On” into my top three on the album, but that merciless and unforgiving noise is still living in my mind rent free. Thankfully, the good far outweighs the bad on this project,
Band members Kevin Abstract and Joba team up for a soul session on “The Light.” Joba, having lost his father to suicide at the tail end of 2020, fires off one of the more impressionable moments on the entire project. Joba feels comfortable bleeding right before the fans and the result is one of the most impactful moments on any recent Brockhampton track. Abstract follows Joba on the second verse, detailing some elements from the hardships of lonesomeness and isolation that he felt during his childhood. Both band members leave their hearts on the line on this top-tier effort, demonstrating a strong sense of maturity.
“Windows” includes a verse from each of the group’s (seven) vocalists. Fans of Brockhampton will enjoy this track based on that fact alone. Most notably, Merlyn Wood flies high on this track, and on the entire project for that matter. While Merlyn obliterates his verse, the looming “Go Merlyn, go Merlyn” that floats through the verse almost taints the effort. McLennon and Matt Champion clock in, dropping two additional studded verses.
Other notable, pop-inspired bops include “I’ll Take You On,” “Old News,” and “Don’t Shoot Up the Party.” The infectious tempos and sonic production on these tracks poise them ready for thousands of streams during COVID-friendly college meetups.
Joba and Abstract conclude their narratives from “The Light” on the final track of the album “The Light Part II.” Joba, once again, bleeds out in front of the audience. Most notably, his verse ties his emotions about his lost father to the emotions the band must have felt regarding backlash from their controversial moments and releases: “The past does not define you / the burden was too much / couldn’t save you from yourself when you self-destruct / couldn’t save me from myself when I pushed my luck / to tell the truth, I’m [we’re] just like you.”
Overall, eight tracks stand far above the rest and only two of thirteen are skip-worthy. A reorganization of the tracks could eliminate any distaste in the album. This return-to-form will prove beneficial for Brockhampton’s overall perception. As part one of their last dance, Brockhampton shared what needed to be shared. Again, cohesion, albeit unnecessary, would have amplified this project, but Brockhampton has successfully purged itself from the demons that tainted iridescence and Ginger. That’s a win in my book.
Fans of Brockhampton can expect the group’s seventh and final studio album release before the end of 2021, as tweeted by Abstract: “2 brockhampton albums in 2021 – these will be our last” (Kevin Abstract, Twitter).
The depth of Roadrunner: New Light, New Machine may not be immediately perceived, but reveals itself underneath the synths and deep bass. Don’t make the mistake of writing this project off after one spin.
Roadrunner is available to stream now.