‘Ginger’ Review: Brockhampton’s Got Their Groove Back

September 6, 2019

My editor is a coward and wants me to be topical. Fine. Brockhampton’s new album “Ginger” is better than their last mess, “Iridescence.”

“Iridescence” was the first album Brockhampton released after doing some damage control in the wake of Ameer Vann’s domestic abuse allegations. In the buildup to that album, there were a lot of questions about how the group would move forward sonically after losing Vann, a key piece. Controversy and all, this was easily the most anticipated album of the group’s young tenure. We were also given a few singles, only one of which made the album. On the Ameer situation, we got relatively little clarity other than that the group “was lied to.” But at least the album was complete with a cosign from Burger King. 

“Iridescence” itself wasn’t bad, but it certainly felt like the boys were spinning their tires. The production quality behind Brockhampton is too high for them to put out a truly terrible album, but very little on that project came together correctly. Ironically, the grimy, more lo-fi direction they took for the album’s sound would’ve played more to Ameer’s delivery than any other member. But instead they doubled down on more awkward fits. 

The most frustrating example of this was the way the group felt they had to work in Bearface–who until then mostly crooned Chainsmoker’s lyrics washed out in reverb–into so many tracks where he didn’t belong. New Orleans is one of the better songs on the album, but a minute in, all the track’s momentum is nipped in the bud so Bearface can do a weird Gwen Stefani-flow. If you’re going to go all in on this grimy sound, why insist on having some of these completely un-intimidating verses? Matt Champion, a more natural fit on these tracks, plays a reduced role. And, of course, would it be a Brockhampton album without Dom McLennon’s “brain revelations?”

There were standout tracks like “Weight” and “Tonya.” But it was hard to breathe under the album’s suffocating sense of moodiness. Meanwhile, the topic of Ameer is basically avoided. You could argue that it’s unreasonable to expect them to be able to process those events that fast. But you could just as easily argue that the album shouldn’t have been released so fast anyway. At the time, I remember thinking the group’s silence on the subject was deafening. And, truthfully, coming back to this album again while writing this, every time I listen, between the sound and the subject matter, I leave wondering who is this actually for.

“Ginger,” on the other hand, feels like it exists for a reason. The tracklist is a mix of songs for the feels and some weirdass bangers. The topic of Ameer is actually dealt with in all but name. “Dearly Departed” might not be the best track on the album, but it’s easily the most necessary to its success. “Victor Roberts,” the last track on the album, features an appearance by an artist of the same name. Metaphorically, the story he tells bears a lot of resemblance to the events the group went through with Ameer. He details a deeply personal story of someone in need being brought into his family and then putting them in danger. The fact that the album ends on this track really underscores the pain the group has been working through. And this is where I think the improvement from “Iridescence” lies. This album is both more consistently vulnerable and more consistently honest.

The production choices are more conducive to success here too. For instance, Bearface is not shoehorned too much on this record (the Gwen Stefani flow does appear again on “St. Percy,” though). Honestly, this is the first of their records where I’ve really enjoyed Bearface’s appearances. Meanwhile, tracks like “If You Pray Right” and “Boy Bye” are exciting, catchy bangers. The first two songs, “Sugar “and “No Halo,” set the tone for the record with their theme of searching for emotional support. “Love Me for Life” sounds like it would’ve been a standout on “Iridescence,” and Joba’s verse on the track in particular really pops. Only a few songs, like “Big Boy” and “St. Percy” for instance, are duds.

Still, the album still doesn’t quite measure up to the “Saturation” trilogy, the set of albums that helped Brockhampton burst onto the scene. For one thing, Kevin Abstract hasn’t quite been able to replicate his consistently impressive performances. There are moments when Joba is a bit too edgy. His first line on “No Halo,” “I went to church for the hell of it” makes my skin crawl. The group’s chemistry is still a bit out of sorts if you compare different verses on the same track, but on the whole, there is a definite improvement there. But ultimately this very clearly is the same group that made those three incredible albums. 

On the whole, this album feels less rushed and more purposed. The directions the group has taken with this album, both sonically and thematically, make sense and complement Brockhampton’s strength and history. I think it’s ultimately indicative of a new direction for the group. You’re not going to get the old Brockhampton, but you shouldn’t want that anyway. Their sound moving forward is the key to their continued success.

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