From the plethora of work under BROCKHAMPTON’s repertoire there are some records that teeter the level of quality being put out – based on what they have done through the Saturation trilogy. Their major label releases have been great, and the constant chirping keeps them on a higher pedestal, which is what leads to many lukewarm and underwhelming reception on some of the sonic choices they make. Kevin Abstract, the de facto leader of BROCKHAMPTON, has declared their new album ROADRUNNER: NEW LIGHT, NEW MACHINE their best, but Iridescence is and this new one feels like it is trying too much to be many things, instrumentally, which fortunately lands on both feet more than not.
ROADRUNNER: NEW LIGHT, NEW MACHINE starts on a strong note with tracks overtaken by the features and their styles. Opening with “Buzzcut,” featuring Danny Brown, the album leaves an interesting impression with this electric and erratic delivery of both sound and vocal performances from Danny and Kevin Abstract. These tracks, like the rest of the album, adapt themselves to the kind of music that influences them. It’s like when Notorious B.I.G. wanted to make the song “Notorious Thugs,” to prove his versatility in his rhythmic flow, which was more provocative than his usual approach.
The few features that mount the first few tracks have had their history of erratic and vibrant deliveries, like JPEGMAFIA and ASAP Rocky & Ferg, the former of which brings some of his best flow in recent memories. For the most part, the A-List (in rap) features take over the show and the aspect of the song comes in those moments. ASAP Rocky’s presence on “Count Me In,” is shown in the production and the smooth poppy melodies it emboldens. There are varying degrees of sonic structures on the album where it creates its own blend of styles as part of an overall theme of new beginnings.
The many highs on this album are high and the lows are very low. Their experimental – alternative style that made their presence known in the “early days” is evident with the way many songs are constructed, but it doesn’t have that unique pop. With the beginning oozing with single – ready tracks and the rest becoming more and more introspective, these new beginnings feel like they didn’t learn much in the transition, considering a lot of these sounds have some tonal similarities with Ginger. The varying sonic structures tread into sounds – most of which contain semblance of 90s hip-hop, some of which work great and others get drowned by its lack of color.
Some of these tracks that range in rhythmic style and lyrical context, are where it shows its strengths. Most times these tracks are defined by vocal and tonal depth. When they tackle production styles they’ve barely touched before, like “Windows” and “Don’t Stop The Party,” are like coin tosses. Either it worked for you or it didn’t. And fortunately for the most part it works, and when they get to using live instruments in overlays of some of the tracks is where it shines.
“Windows,” has this production very reminiscent of work you’d hear prominently in the 90s with the rustic boom-bap percussion overlaying the smaller details. It shows many of the vocalists flex and strut their verbiage. This has never been a problem for the group as they always come in with refreshing flows and verses that explore bigger pictures, but not every track has that kind of overall delivery. “Don’t Shoot Up The Party,” is a try hard bombastic g-funk song that has unique lyricism about social issues, but the vocal delivery just doesn’t land on every level. A lot of the in between these two tracks, unfortunately got lost in the mix as they seem to stay quiet, letting little moments shine on their own, like Charlie Wilson’s guest vocals on “I’ll Take You On.”
As the album starts to make its way through the second hand, we have the members of BROCKHAMPTON reflecting on recent events in relation their person, like the suicide of Joba’s father and Kevin’s sexuality. They have given us these reflections on “The Light,” and “The Light Pt. 2,” where some of the rock-like overtones have a beautiful nuance in the way they blend with hip-hop percussion. On these tracks, but specifically the first “The Light,” the electric guitar adds an effervescent atmospheric layer.
ROADRUNNER: NEW LIGHT, NEW MACHINE keeps consistent with exhuming their strengths on these tracks, like Kevin’s idiosyncratic artistry and Matt Champion’s flows, but Joba steals the show every chance he gets. On “What’s The Occasion?” Joba delivers with beautiful cadence, a melodic flow on a raspy falsetto that boosts the effectiveness of the song’s mood/tone.
These tracks that lie in between the aforementioned tracks feature Dom McLennon and Matt Champion in full force, but they don’t have that same attractive grasp as tracks they’ve done together before, like “Sugar,” off 2019’s Ginger. That dynamic seems to be sullen and quiet through the transition of track to track, that upon retrospect aren’t inherently “bad” but the production doesn’t have enough gravitas. That is more on the producers and the creative orchestration of the production to fall under the overall theme of new beginnings.
ROADRUNNER: NEW LIGHT, NEW MACHINE is one of BROCKHAMPTON’s weaker outings as a group, but there is enough to keep intrigue, specifically in the opening that oozes replay value. The group has more to come and these “new beginnings,” is just that, especially for some of the more quiet members (producers) shine in their own right.