Mudhoney’s Tenth Studio Release is a Brash Punk Jam, Hectic but Brave

While Digital Garbage isn’t perfect, it is yet another strong showing for the most important band you’ve never heard of.

     Mudhoney is an American grunge/punk band based in Seattle, WA. Often called “the most important band you’ve never heard of,” the group’s early work following their formation in 1988 was released on Sub-Pop Records and was massively influential in the early grunge scene which eventually gave birth to the likes of Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, and fellow Sub-Pop group, Nirvana. Unlike their label mates, however, Mudhoney has remained with Sub-Pop for the duration of their career with ten albums over three decades, each critically well received, but none finding commercial success.

   The group is lauded for their heavy guitars, blues and punk influence, and brutally honest lyricism. Their sound is far less accessible than the bulk of grunge music thanks to their jarring sound and frontman Mark Arm’s unique singing voice. Nevertheless, Mudhoney has built quite a loyal following over the years, including a long list of very famous and influential fans, while continuing to work day jobs in their hometown. Now, 30 years after the band’s groundbreaking debut, Mudhoney is back with Digital Garbage, and it seems that they still have quite a bit to say.

   The punk influences are worn directly on the sleeve in this album. Tracks like “Paranoid Core,” or “21st Century Pharisees” are pure punk rock jams complete with distorted guitars and metronomic high-hats. “Night and Fog,” even pulls a few post-punk inspirations, easily the most modern style featured on the record.

   Steve Turner turns in the best performance of the group on guitars. “Hey Neanderf**k” leans entirely on his bluesy riffs and fuzzy distortion while his active play on the closer, “Oh Yeah,” makes the short, 90 second song more than worthy of wrapping up the project. He’s constantly moving, often toying with dissonance and rarely settling for simple chords and rhythm, giving Digital Garbage a constant forward motion throughout it’s 35-minute runtime.

   The rest of the band works well with each other, showing off the kind of tightness that comes from three decades with only one substantial lineup change. The drums are fantastic on “Next Mass Extinction,” complementing the open blues tone set by the harmonica melodies, while the bass intro on the opener “Nerve Attack,” is the highlight of the admittedly tame track.

   Lyrically, Digital Garbage is nothing short of pure, distilled punk of the political variety. Mark Arm’s criticism of modern culture is especially sharp when his gaze is fixed on the current state of organized religion on “Prosperity Gospel,” or my favorite cut, “Messiah’s Lament.” Here, he turns the scalpel of whit to the conjoined nature of American Christianity to the Republican Party and right wing ideology. This is nearly as sharp in “Kill Yourself Live,” as Arm lambasts today’s youth for their obsessions with social media and glorification of self-harm in addition to providing the albums title on an anthemic bridge.

   My first and strongest criticism, however, comes on this same topic, namely in the lyrics to “Please Mr. Gunman,” which, I believe to be in quite bad taste. Of course, there are no topics off limits to artists, especially in punk rock, but the song sets out to tackle issues like mass shootings, religious hypocrisy, and national apathy, doing so with the grace of thirteen year old arguing with their teacher. I won’t use the term “offensive,” because, as I said, no topic is off the table to good writing, but issues like these need tact and nuance, which they are not afforded on this, the worst track on the album.

   Arm’s voice, though unique, can be a bit much at a few moments. At times, he is a dynamic leader, and at times, he sounds like Weird Al Yankovic trying his hand at punk rock. In addition, the album has a tendency to be a bit one-note, with many songs sounding very similar, though the short runtime and energetic spirit helps smooth this over.

   Digital Garbage is a fun listen and in many respects, it’s one of the bravest punk records of the last decade. The political statements on this album are the kind of brash, boldfaced lyrics that are rarely heard outside of the underground. A hugely influential rock band with a catalog full of classics, it’s good to hear Mudhoney still working and putting out such high quality work.

   While Digital Garbage isn’t perfect, it is yet another strong showing for the most important band you’ve never heard of.

6/10

HEAR DIGITAL GARBAGE: https://open.spotify.com/album/3VlqKyu14rAorKhWFStRMY

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Twenty One Pilots Reemerge With Catchy but Deeply Flawed Fifth Album

With the increased maturity, the duo’s weaknesses shine more brightly than ever, and in some cases even cover up the many strengths that do exist on this album.

     Twenty One Pilots is an alternative hip-hop/pop/electronica duo from Columbus Ohio. They worked their way up through the music industry with an organic, grassroots fanbase eating up their self-titled debut and the follow up, Regional at Best in 2009 and 2011 respectively. They went on to sign a deal with Fueled by Ramen and release their breakout LP, Vessel in 2013, which still holds up to this day thanks to it’s youthful exuberance and experimental nature. Their 2015 follow up, Blurryface hasn’t aged nearly as well as it’s predecessor, though it was well received with the “Stressed Out” single netting them a grammy in 2016. Earlier this year, Blurryface became the first album in music history to have at least a gold certification for every track.

   Twenty One Pilots have been touring relentlessly since their last release until their recent and rather pretentious announcement that Trench would release later this year. Social media was abuzz and the first few singles showed quite a bit of promise. Though the once dominant Fueled By Ramen label has, in recent years, become a cesspool of thirty-something year old pop-rockers singing to twenty-something fans reliving their high school emo days, Twenty One Pilots showed a few signs of life and maturity in their lyricism and sound. I found myself excited to hear Trench, if a bit cautious, and now that it’s out, the record does pack a few surprises.

   The band’s best talent on this record is, as it always was, their ability to write hooks. Tracks like “Chlorine,” or “Morph,” are built around undeniable ear-worms that will bounce around in a listeners head for weeks to come. Even some of the records later cuts, “Bandito,” for example, are extremely catchy and feature very well written choruses.

   Beyond this, Josh Dunn’s drums are, of course, a treasure trove of fun fills and rhythms. “Legend” features a fun, easy rock beat which stands as one of the last remnants of the duo’s earlier sound. Much of the closer, “Leave This City,” on the other hand is driven by a fairly complex cymbal rhythm which all but makes up for the unremarkable nature of the track.

   Tyler Joseph’s contributions, however, are not as consistent. He gives an excellent, emotional performance on the opener and my favorite cut, “Jumpsuit,” and his quirky vocal is perfect for the upbeat tribute to his wife, “Smithereens.” His rapping, though, is not nearly as exciting on the trap influenced “Levitate,” or most anywhere else he raps on this project. Where Tyler’s screaming flow was once erratic and youthful, it comes off as awkward or uninteresting on much of Trench.

   The instrumentals are rarely memorable, but do provide a few highlights. The fuzzy guitar on the aforementioned opener are fantastic, and the discreet ukulele on “Nico and the Niners” is a nice touch. Furthermore, a few of the more electronic tracks like “My Blood,” or “The Hype,” are actually quite rich and mix in Joseph’s newfound love of bass guitar well.

   Lyrically we find an odd issue rearing its head. Songs like “Neon Gravestones,” or “Legend,” benefit from interesting choices in topic, especially the former which indicts our culture’s glorification of mental illness and suicide. The bulk of the lyricism is relatively inoffensive, though a bit repetitive.

   However, Trench is constantly plagued by an effort to develop an absurdly intricate concept following a dystopian future and some kind of rebellion against a theocratic government with so many characters and details that virtually no casual or even dedicated listener could unweave it without reading the loads of written material which the band uploaded along with the album. The vast majority of the storyline takes place in the writing with the album only casually mentioning it and many tracks completely forgoing the concept all together. This has the effect of interrupting otherwise interesting songs with ridiculous and meaningless lyrics which only exist to loosely tie in the plot of this external story. In short, Trench is a textbook example of how not to write a concept album.

   The only other complaint I have falls mainly over the second half of the album in that much of it is simply boring. Tracks like “Cut My Lip,” and “Pet Cheetah,” are messy and go nowhere, with the latter easily standing as the low point of the record. “Bandito,” though featuring a nice hook, doesn’t justify it’s five and a half minute runtime as none of the musical ideas really grow or develop in anyway.

   Trench is an odd album because it shines in many ways. Josh Dunn is as good as ever on drums, Paul Meany’s production leads to many interesting, small touches to be discovered on repeat plays, and Tyler Joseph clearly still has the ability to craft interesting musical ideas. This album could even pass as an alright addition to the Twenty One Pilots catalog, but after revisiting Vessel or even Blurryface, it becomes clear that Trench lacks a certain youthful energy which once glaze over the weaker elements of the band’s work.

   With the increased maturity, the duo’s weaknesses shine more brightly than ever, and in some cases even cover up the many strengths that do exist on this album.

5/10

HEAR TRENCH: https://open.spotify.com/album/621cXqrTSSJi1WqDMSLmbL

Revocation Drops Thrashing but Technical 7th LP

While the record is flawed, it’s a passionate attempt to balance loud, thrashing instruments with virtuosity and precision which, when it works, works gloriously.

     Revocation is a thrash/death metal trio based in Boston, MA. They founded nearly two decades ago and quickly gained notoriety from a very strong, self-released EP and a follow up LP in 2006 and 2008 respectively. After signing with Relapse Records in 2009, the group went on to release three very successful projects, the last of which, 2013’s self-titled album, actually charted in the billboard 200. Recently, they’ve signed to Metal Blade Records for 2014’s Deathless and 2016’s Great Is Our Sin, each of which charted and received heavy critical acclaim in the US and parts of Europe.

   The groups is known, first and foremost, for their technical abilities on each instrument and attention to detail in every riff and fill. This serves them well in a genre which caters to fans with a strong knowledge of musicianship and provides a window in for listeners from outside the genre who don’t necessarily know what to listen for in heavy metal. They’ve gone through a few lineup changes over the years, with frontman David Davidson remaining as the only member of the original cast, but they haven’t lost any of their edge or skill. With that, let’s take a look at The Outer Ones.

   The backbone and workhorse of this group is Ash Pearson on drums. Having just joined in 2015 to replace longtime and founding member, Phil Dubois-Coyne, Pearson stepped into big shoes, which he filled instantly. His ability to switch from complex groves to ridiculously fast, driving passages is extremely impressive. This shines a lot on tracks like “That Which Consumes All Things,” or “Fathomless Catacombs,” but it is the spine of the record as a whole and allows Revocation to put clear separations between their thrash and death metal influences.

   While the drums may be the bedrock, you could be forgiven for missing much of Pearson’s work thanks the distraction of David Davidson’s soaring lead guitars. The solo on the opener and my favorite cut, “Of Unworldly Origins,” just cuts the very dense mix in half with power and direction and the way he toys with atonation and dissonance on the opening of the title track gives an eery feel which is far too rare on this record. This, of course, not to mention the lead only passage on the closer, “A Starless Darkness,” which is simply fantastic.

   The rhythm guitar is excellent is as well. Davidson’s tone and chunky play works well over the drums to enforce the rhythm well on tracks like “Vanitas.” Throughout the entire album, this guitar is an essential part of pulling listeners along for the constantly changing rhythms and tempos that The Outer Ones throws at them.

   Vocals are a much weaker area as Davidson is a much better guitarist than vocalist. While he has high points like “Luciferous,” where his more thrashing voice comes through to imbue the track with a certain epical feel, most of his performances aren’t memorable, and tend leave listeners waiting for the next virtuosic instrumental passage.

   The bass guitar is very nearly non-existent on this project. Brett Bamburger’s work peaks its head out in tracks like “Luciferous,” or “Vanitas” but weather its buried in the mix or just forgettable and unnoticeable, the bass can hardly be heard outside of these few spotlighting moments. Because of this, every single track is wanting of a depth which just doesn’t come from the rest of the rather narrow instrumental pallet.

   Easily the album’s worst quality, though, is the production. Accomplished metal producer, Zeuss takes the reigns on The Outer Ones and paints this record with more than a few cliched choices. The swirling fade in on “Blood Atonement,” is extremely overused and dated and the fade out on “A Starless Darkness,” is simply unforgivable and all but ruins one of Revocation’s strongest pieces in the tracklist. Beyond this, the entire project has a very thin sound, the bass guitars are buried through much of it, and what stereo imaging there is comes off as gimmicky and unnatural. This seems to be simply a case of trying to fix what isn’t broke.

   All together, The Outer Ones is a fun, heavy release from one of the most talented groups in rock music. The less than 50 minute runtime doesn’t overstay its welcome, tracks are well paced and consistently entertaining, and the musicianship is nothing short of fantastic.

   While the record is flawed, it’s a passionate attempt to balance loud, thrashing instruments with virtuosity and precision which, when it works, works gloriously.

6/10

HEAR THE OUTER ONES: https://open.spotify.com/album/1Ela7sSi5MIp9HmEuLbCdY

Loretta Lynn Pairs with John Carter Cash For Powerful Album with Legacy Records

Wouldn’t It Be Great avoids the trappings of sentimentality, for the most part, and instead presents the image of an icon continuing to master her craft.

     Loretta Lynn is a legend at a caliber that very few ever reach. She’s been a member of the Grand ‘Ole Opry for more than 50 years, featured in the County Music Hall of Fame, won four Grammys, and even received a Presidential Medal of Freedom from Barack Obama in 2013. After a studio career that spans 41 albums and 55 years, Lynn is now reaching the twilight of her career and she’s doing so with grace.

   Her 2017 album, Full Circle was nominated for the Best Country Album award at the 59th Grammy awards, and having signed with Legacy Records, she doesn’t seem to be done yet. This is especially the case due to the recent resurgence of the outlaw and traditional country styles. Wouldn’t It Be Great released earlier this week and it is yet another great addition to her catalog.

   Lynn’s voice on this record is especially impressive, as she still sounds fantastic after her very long career. This is especially true on her higher, more open notes in tracks like “I’m Dying for Someone to Live For,” or the opening title track. She sings with a power and control that just doesn’t exist in modern country music.

   This is made all the more impressive by the fantastic instrumentation on this album, which is easily it’s best quality. Sam Bush’s fiddle on “Another Bridge to Burn,” is just pure bluegrass and the electric guitars on “Don’t Come Home from Drinkin’” set the perfect tone for such a classic of country music. The bedrock to all of this is, of course, Mike Bub on the upright bass who holds down every song with an active, leading bass line. This instrumentation, more so than anything else, is what sets Wouldn’t It Be Great apart form other recent releases from older country icons.

   This large band and wide pallet is masterfully helmed by John Carter Cash on production. The only son of Johnny Cash and June Carter, John is quickly becoming one of the best producers in country music with his simple but elegant style. His stereo imaging gives tracks like “Lulie Vars,” or “These ‘Ole Blues,” a very organic feel and he has a good ear for which instruments need to take center stage.

   While the album carries plenty of crooning ballads, it is at its best when its fun. Listen to songs like “Ruby’s Stool,” or my personal favorite, “Ain’t No Time to Go,” which take almost an Irish slant with the loud fiddle, mandolin swells, and excellent banjo work by Larry Perkins. These tracks are best described as foot-tappers, and they’re some of the funnest country songs of the year.

   Lyrically, the album is a bit of a mixed bag. “My Angel Mother,” is a moving and well crafted tribute and “The Big Man,” is a clinic in how to write religious music. On the other hand, “God Makes No Mistakes,” is a good example of how not to write religious music as it comes off as repetitive and answers few of the questions it poses and may be the weakest song in the track list. In addition, “Darkest Days,” one of Lynn’s oldest songs, repurposed for this project, shows it’s age a bit in it’s simple writing and rhyme scheme.

   Many of the tracks on this album are older Loretta Lynn songs which she’s re-recorded for this album, and most of them gain something from the update. If one doesn’t, it would likely be the closer, “Coal Miner’s Daughter.” This is, of course, one of the most iconic songs in the country cannon, but nothing is improved by recording it again, especially since it was recorded as recent as 2012 before this.

   On the other end of the album, the opener and title track is easily the highlight of this project. Loretta’s vocal is gentle but powerful, Randy Scruggs’ acoustic guitar lays an excellent bedding, and the lyrics are very well written, dealing with a woman asking her alcoholic husband to “throw the ‘ole glass crutch away.”

   Loretta Lynn is one of the all time greats and her pairing with the John Carter Cash is more than fitting. The vocals are excellent, the instrumental pallet is broad and exciting, and Loretta Lynn commands respect in a way that few artists ever are able to.

   Wouldn’t It Be Great avoids the trappings of sentimentality, for the most part, and instead presents the image of an icon continuing to master her craft.

8/10

HEAR WOULDN’T IT BE GREAT: https://open.spotify.com/album/4Uk33jRr1FKDvYBDy8J3Xr

The Wait is Over, Carter V is Finally Here, and it’s Excellent

Lil Wayne is an undeniable legend of rap music, and Tha Carter V shows us all exactly why.

     Lil’ Wayne is, undeniably, a legend in the hip-hop world. He debuted in 1996 with a group called Hot Boys on their debut album Get It How U Live! At fifteen, Wayne was the youngest member of the group and went on to easily the most successful solo career out of the five members. He released his first solo project in 1999 with Tha Block is Hot, which went platinum.

   This album series, however, began with the first Carter album in 2004 and was last updated by 2011’s Tha Carter IV. Today, The Carter series is one of the most critically and commercially successful album series of all time and after a seven year break due to legal troubles, Wayne is ready to return to The Carter this time with the added challenge of making the record feel current and new after a long hiatus from a genre which evolves at a breakneck pace. Luckily for all of us, he does this well.

   The first and most obvious notable quality of Carter V is the runtime. Clocking in at just under 90 minutes, this record is able to explore every idea fully, and a few times to an exhaustive extent. This can, at first make the album feel a bit daunting, but it isn’t nearly as dense as length may suggest, and the bulk of of these tracks are hits rather than misses.

   Perhaps the most interesting piece of this album is the production which, though handled by several different producers, strikes a surprisingly similar tone throughout. Tracks like “Can’t Be Broken,” “Open Safe,” “Famous,” and “Took His Time,” benefit from instrumentals which are very dated in the best possible way. They’re very reminiscent of Wayne’s work in his prime, around the mid-2000’s, during the early years of trap music and this is the first time that this sound has been done well in many years.

   On other occasions, the album’s sound is very current. Tracks like “Demon,” and “Dope New Gospel,” sport a very interesting neo-soul vibe which is done very well with excellent vocal work from Nivea on the latter. Wayne’s classic sung/rap flow fits well on these tracks as he lyrically dances over these beats with a skill that only comes from experience.

   In addition to all this, the soundbites which Wayne and his team chose for this album are fantastic. From the message from Wayne’s mother on the “I Love You Dwayne,” intro to her subsequent appearances on “Used 2,” and “Let It All Work Out,” which close out the project, each of these clips are extremely moving and bring weight to the album’s subject matter. On top of these, Barrack Obama makes a hilarious appearance on “Dedicate,” and Katie Couric drops by on “Hittas,” to remind us all that “Lil’ Wayne answers to no-one.”

   The features list here sports a few surprising names and interesting omissions. Thankfully, Drake doesn’t make an appearance, save for one line. Nicki Minaj, however, does feature on the rather underwhelming “Dark Side of the Moon,” with her best verse in several years. Similarly, Travis Scott gives an uncharacteristically solid performance on “Let it Fly.” The late XXXTentacion’s hook on “Don’t Cry,” is eiry and Snoop Dogg gives a fun closing verse on “Dope N***az.”

   The best feature, however, and the best track on the album as a whole is Kendrick Lamar on “Mona Lisa,” which just may be one of the best rap tracks of the year. In it, Wayne and Kendrick tell a grimy story of set ups, robbery, and theft with fantastic flow and storytelling abilities that really draws the parallel between two artists who have long been at the top of their game.

   The most impressive and exciting aspect of all of this is, without a doubt, Wayne’s flow. Listen to tracks like “Uproar,” “Open Letter,” “Problems,” or the very close contender for the title of best track on the album, “Start This Shit Off Right,” for the most shining examples of this, but Wayne’s flow is excellent on nearly every song. He often hangs on to a single rhyme for long periods of time, dropping non-stop bars along the way without missing a beat. His lyricism has improved, and he rarely relies on punchlines as he once did, but his iconic, hard-hitting flow is here in spades.

   All of this being said, I do have a few complaints. The worst track on this album, by far, is “Mess,” though other songs like “What About Me,” and “Perfect Strangers,” suffer from a similar issue: boring R&B beats that severely limit Wayne’s flow and offer nothing of substance to make up for this. This is the album’s worst offense, though several of the outros are far too long and the entire runtime could benefit quite a bit from shaving off 20-30 unjustified minutes.

   All of this being said, Tha Carter V is nothing short of excellent. After the nearly five year wait, we finally have brand new tracks from Lil Wayne with a full budget and original beats and it is well worth the wait. Rap music is often measured in eras, and the Wheezy era ended a few years ago, but that doesn’t mean that the man can’t still release fantastic music.

   Lil Wayne is an undeniable legend of rap music, and Tha Carter V shows us all exactly why.

8/10

HEAR THA CARTER V: https://open.spotify.com/album/50yFYgKdwJANZ5O9MIbMkg

IDLES Gives Incredible Performance in Nashville on First US Tour

Having experienced this show, I would now comfortably say that IDLES is the best band in rock music today.

     Jack White once said of rock stars, “they get the freedom to have the highest of each emotions.” On September 28th in Nashville, IDLES brought that description to life in a fascinating way.

   The openers, a post-punk outfit called Bambara, gave quite a performance to kick off the night. The group’s lead singer lurked to and fro across the front of the stage with an almost Morrison-esque energy as the lead guitarist brutally beat his instrument off of speakers, pillars, and the ground, creating very unique tones that fit shockingly well with the band’s atmosphere. The set ran about an hour long, and was consistently loud, driving, and exciting, which is all one can ask of an opener.

IMG_1383   After a quick turnover, IDLES took the stage, though most of them her already there helping their crew put finishing touches on their stage set. They chose “Colossus” as an opener, an excellent choice as the driving rhythm and low timbre made for an ominous start. I was standing in the front row of the nice, but rather cramped High Watt in Nashville, and it was during the explosive final seconds of this song that this fact became relevant as I was rocked and shoved all about by the fantastic crowd.

   The bulk of the set was taken from the their recent project, Joy as an Act of Resistance, my favorite album of 2018 so far, with a few notable exceptions. The first of these was “Mother,” which was brutal, loud, and singable all at once, as were later call backs to 2017’s Brutalism, “Heel/Heal,” “1049 Gotho,” and the best of all “Well Done,” which fell near the end. While Joy is certainly the better album and it’s topics are so prescient, there is something so quintessentially punk about those older tracks which makes them musts for any set the band plays.

   While most of the show was raucous and loud, the group did slow it down to some extent, especially with “Love Song,” which even elicited a few chuckles with it’s funnier lines while delivering its message of the dangers of masculinity in relationships quite well.

IMG_1379   Aside from song selection, there was much to be appreciated in the group’s performance, and particularly their disregard for traditional concert etiquette. This, of course, began with the decision help the crew with set up and start the show without an official walk out and ended with the lack of an encore, which was replaced with a long track in which the group pulled crowd members on stage and allowed them to play the instruments. In the following and final song, each band member walked off the stage one by one leaving a ringing distortion behind.

   Between these examples, lead guitarists Mark Bowen and Lee Kierman very nearly stole the show from their frontman as the former bounced across the stage mimicking Flamenco dances and kick lines throughout and the latter consistently climbed into the crowd and played much of the show from the center of the moshpit. Near the end of the show, both guitarists left the stage and stood on bars on either side of the venue, dancing and playing as the crowd’s attention was divided between them and the rest of the group on stage.

IMG_1385

   Above all, however, vocalist Joe Talbot’s work at the front of this group can only be described as powerful. His voice was gritty, her screams were brutal, and he moved explosively across the stage all night. He would often toss the microphone behind his back, tugging the XLR cable across his neck like a noose, followed by hugging his bandmates as they played, reaching into the rabid crowd, and even punching himself in the face during a few songs. His performance is evocative of a Johnny Rotten or Kurt Cobain and it served as the perfect centerpiece to a fantastic show.

  Joy as an Act of Resistance is easily one of the most important albums of the year, and I was very fortunate for the opportunity to see this band on this tour. Having experienced this show, I would now comfortably say that IDLES is the best band in rock music today.

BROCKHAMPTON Kicks Off 2018 Trilogy With Flawed but Passionate LP

There are a few weak links and a few underdeveloped elements, but the sheer scope combined with the energy and passion which radiates from every performance makes this album and this group one of the best in modern Hip-hop, bare none.

     BROCKHAMPTON is a rap/hip-hop group from San Marcos, Texas. They’ve called themselves “the best boyband since One Direction,” and their meteoric rise to superstardom is quite reminiscent of the career trajectories of groups like these. The group debuted last year with Saturation I, II, and III, each of which were met with widespread critical praise and love from young hip-hop fans everywhere.

   The large lineup of members, each of whom share vocal duties across the discography, gives the group a fantastically eclectic sound as well as a kind of irresistible, manic energy. Many tracks rest comfortably on the verge of chaos, both rhythmically and due to the constantly shifting flows. Borrowing from the growing movement of experimental and minimalistic hip-hop which is looming in the underground world, BROCKHAMPTON adapts a very unique and often complex style to make it more accessible to general listeners without losing it’s key qualities. Because of this, I was excited to hear Iridescence, which would be the fourth entry to the groups discography, and it certainly was not a let down.

   The most noticeable aspect of this project, upon first listen, is excellent production. Each instrument has a depth and weight to it in the mix and the stereo image is inventive and exciting. Furthermore, the vocal effects used on tracks like “DISTRICT,” add yet another layer to the already rich soundscape.

   This, in turn, means that the album is extremely well paced. Song length varies greatly, with one of my favorite tracks, “Loophole,” being less than a minute long excerpt from an interview, and “Thug Life,” makes the most of it’s two minute run time. Others, like the excellent opener, “New Orleans,” have runtimes which exceed four minutes, carrying all of it well.

   The aforementioned sonic diversity also means that Iridescence is packed to the brim with verses which highlight great flows from each member. Joba’s verse on “Tape,” for example is one of the best verses of the year and Matt Champion’s follow up is all but equal in quality. And, of course, Kevin Abstract’s work on “Weight,” is incredible, and adds to the tracks status as my favorite moment on the album. All this without mentioning the jarring and brutal style employed by Merlyn Wood on “Where the Cash At.”

   Beyond diversity in flow, the production on this album is completely unpredictable in terms of instrumentals. Tracks like “J’ourvert,” accomplish this by switching beats and styles constantly, while “Honey,” or “San Marcos,” constantly introduce new and unique instruments.

   This brings us to yet another interesting quality to Iridescence: it’s extremely broad instrumentation pallet. “Tonya’s” moving piano is surprising in the best way possible while the strange organ on the closer, “Fabric,” is quite intriguing even after it’s initial introduction because of it’s enigmatic tone.

   If there are a few week points, they come in the form of the groups simpler, more emotional tracks. While this works well on tracks like “Weight,” it can also fall flat, as it does on “Fabric,” often sabotaged by the strange flows and production which surround the lyricism, which is also not always perfect.

   Brockhampton is at their best, however, when the bass is heavy and the flows are brutal. “Brazil,” for example, is one of the most charismatic hip-hop tracks in recent memory, and “District,” seems only to improve with repeated visits. It’s here, with each element of the group operating at full speed and putting in maximum effort, that BROCKHAMPTON sounds genuinely special. Iridescence may not be for everyone, it certainly isn’t perfect, and it doesn’t quite have the listenability value of other BROCKHAMPTON projects, and yet there is something quite great about it.

   There are a few weak links and a few underdeveloped elements, but the sheer scope combined with the energy and passion which radiates from every performance makes this album and this group one of the best in modern hip-hop, bare none.

6/10

HEAR IRIDESCENCE: https://open.spotify.com/album/3Mj4A4nNJzIdxOyS4yzOhj