ALBUM OF THE MONTH - Apr. 2021: BROCKHAMPTON - Roadrunner: New Light, New Machine
Follow the Light, the Light is Your Guide
The world’s greatest boyband have returned. With their sixth studio album, BROCKHAMPTON's latest LP ROADRUNNER: NEW LIGHT, NEW MACHINE might just be BH's penultimate record, but if it is, it's indicative of a band closing their discography with strength. Though 2019's GINGER received mixed reviews from critics and long-time BH fans alike, its departure from the high energy, in-your-face sounds of the Saturation Trilogy and iridescence and instead delivered a softer, more introspective record. Many fans felt like GINGER was just the band ‘selling out’ after the lukewarm reception to iridescence, but love it or hate it, its undeniable that one of the biggest alt-pop tracks of recent years came from that record through ‘SUGAR’.
ROADRUNNER, instead, is a hip-hop project through and through. It retains that signature BH swagger, as well as blending in the polished pop elements found on GINGER. BH have never been a group known for their use of features, but that seems to have changed with appearances from JPEGMAFIA, A$AP Rocky, A$AP Ferg and more all on this new project. Lead single ‘BUZZCUT’, (featuring Danny Brown), proves an explosive slice of hip-hop with immaculate production and a verse from Kevin Abstract unlike any I’ve heard from him before. Danny Brown’s verse is expectedly chaotic and the involvement of features in a BH project keeps everything fresh and exciting. The siren-laced beat and heavy sub basses keep the energy levels high, and works brilliantly as an opener to the record. ‘CHAIN ON’ featuring JPEGMAFIA comes in with a woozy instrumental, with its slightly off-grid drums and plucky lead riff. While the instrumental doesn’t change too much, the verses from JPEG and Dom McLennon are excellent. Both JPEG and McLennon are very flow-driven rappers, and the space left in the instrumental has their vocal work slotting in perfectly. Abstract’s hook is sleepy but matches the beat well, and the ‘C.R.E.A.M’ sample towards the end forms a nice, yet perhaps superfluous addition.
‘COUNT ON ME’ is a short and sweet cut of radio-ready hip-hop with a boyband chorus featuring Jabari, Ryan Beatty and Shawn Mendes standing out as one of the best the group has put out in a while. The hook is infectious and sits atop the playful beat nicely and A$AP Rocky’s verse is as silky smooth as ever. As a fan of Matt Champion, solo and as a member of the group, I was disappointed that his first verse on ROADRUNNER has been produced in the way it has. The vocal itself is a little quiet, but it is drenched in slapback delay, making most of his bars difficult to pick out. Given how fantastic Champion’s verses have been in the past (‘JUNKY’ and ‘RENTAL’ spring to mind), his addition to ‘COUNT ON ME’ disappoints given the way his vocals were produced.
The guitar and vocal samples on ‘BANKROLL’, with A$AP Ferg and A$AP Rocky, are mysterious and haunting. We even get the rewind sound we became so familiar with on the Saturation trilogy. The chemistry on ‘BANKROLL’ between Merlyn ("MERLYN!") Wood, Ferg and Rocky feels so natural. My prior reservations at the thought of features on a BROCKHAMPTON project is that the guests would ruin the vibe the band have worked so hard to create, but this is not the case at all. Champion and Rocky take the chorus on this one, and we finally hear Champion’s swagger-laden tone of voice, as the effects have been left off this time.
Romil Hemnani, one of the producers in BH, has fully cemented himself as one of the most exciting producers in hip-hop right now. Post-BROCKHAMPTON, I can see Hemnani metamorphosing into a Kenny Beats-type figure in regards to collaboration and how in demand he is going to be. The production on ROADRUNNER, especially towards the back end of the record, is seriously some BH’s best. Closer ‘THE LIGHT PT.II’ blends a gorgeous guitar loop and heavenly vocal samples. While fairly minimal, it serves its purpose beautifully. The string samples on ‘WHEN I BALL’ are great, perfectly attuned to the tones of 2000s R&B heavyweights. The track oscillates along its path with calm presence, but does perhaps end up a little forgettable in the wider context of the record's harder cuts.
‘THE LIGHT’, conversely, emerges as what is perhaps the darkest track BROCKHAMPTON have ever put out. Joba (ed: he's my favourite) takes the reins on this one, delving deep into his trauma revolving around the suicide of his father. The opening spoken-word passage is gut-wrenching. The beat juxtaposes Joba’s verse, with its old school feel and distorted guitar licks. Among the other tracks with their themes of materialism and politics, Joba’s unbarred honesty truly took me by surprise;
When I look at myself, I see a broken man
Remnants of my pops, put the Glock to his head
Nothing ever go as planned, couldn't make amends
Forcibly pretend I don't give a damn
At a loss, aimless, six feet
Deep, suffocatin', can't face it
Can't change it, ain't make it
Master plans by the maker, I see no savior
I feel that for most long time BROCKHAMPTON fans, ROADRUNNER might arrive as a slow-burn ‘grower’ album. A marriage between the colourful excesses of iridescence and the intimacy of GINGER, the record covers so many bases stylistically, through old school hip-hop beats, R&B tinted outros and boyband hooks. It offers career highlights for some of BH's members with Joba in particular sizing the spotlight on several tracks. It's refreshing to hear new voices on BH’s signature production style, especially given the quality of artists that were on this project, and overall, RR stands as a confident addition to the group's discography, with only the rare moments of underwhelming or disappointing deviations. This is a band that has always changed up their sound with each campaign, but what remains indisputably, undoubtedly, impossibly consistent is that BROCKHAMPTON stand as the world’s best boyband.
- 8.6 -
'BUZZCUT', 'THE LIGHT', 'WHEN I BALL'
James Mellen is currently studying songwriting and production based near Bristol. Interests include silly effects pedals, Yorkshire tea and 100 gecs.
Thanks for reading! Slow Motion Panic Masters is a music, arts and culture website created and edited by Ben Wheadon, a literature student and musician based at the University of Oxford. He edited this article and he is also a Fleet Foxes shill.
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