Brockhampton has returned with their latest studio album, “Roadrunner: New Light, New Machine,” which features some of the collective’s most seamless and mature work to date, all while maintaining the creative and experimental spirit that earned them a following in the first place.
I’ve reviewed the last two Brockhampton albums for The Montclarion, “Iridescence” in 2018 and “Ginger” in 2019, so it seemed fitting that I review the band’s last project to be released during my time at Montclair State University as this is my final semester.
Brockhampton begins this album with the track “Buzzcut,” a fast-paced and electrifying banger. This album opener is reminiscent of other attention-grabbing opening tracks, like “Boogie” on “Saturation III,” or “New Orleans” on “Iridescence.”
Group leader Kevin Abstract takes the vocal reins on this one, beginning his rap verse with an immediate infectious energy that is impossible to ignore.
“Who let the dope boys out,” Abstract shouts. “Thank God you let me crash on your couch.”
The second verse is taken by rapper Danny Brown, one of the numerous featured artists included on the album. Brockhampton isn’t known for including many featured artists on their projects, but that has seemingly changed on this record.
Some other prominent features include rappers A$AP Ferg and A$AP Rocky on the track “Bankroll,” a song with haunting backup vocals and a guitar plucking instrumental. Ferg steals the show here, delivering a rapid first verse that sets up the tone for the rest of the track.
“Count On Me” essentially is to “Roadrunner” what the track “Bleach” is to Brockhampton’s third album “Saturation III.” It contains numerous uncredited features, such as a short, solid opening verse from A$AP Rocky, a deep-voiced delivery in the second verse by SoGone SoFlexy and a third and final bouncy rap verse from Brockhampton member Matt Champion.
But the song’s most prominent similarity to “Bleach” is the upbeat, poppy chorus, made up of a harmony between Brockhampton member Jabari Manwa, Ryan Beatty and pop star Shawn Mendes. Mendes has long been connected to Brockhampton after being referenced by Abstract in the 2017 track “Star,” so a collaboration between the two has been a long time coming but still unexpected nonetheless.
The best song on the album is “Windows,” which is also the longest track at just over six minutes. This is the only song on the album to contain contributions from all six main Brockhampton vocalists: Abstract, Champion, Dom McLennon, Merlyn Wood, Joba and Bearface. The track also features SoGone SoFlexy on the opening verse and producer-turned-vocalist Manwa on the chorus yet again.
The end result is an album highlight reminiscent of a classic Brockhampton “Saturation” trilogy track, giving each member the opportunity to showcase their vocal and lyrical abilities. The long run time might turn casual listeners away, but I promise you are going to want to stick around to the end to hear Bearface’s finest rap verse to date.
The album also benefits from creative production sprinkled throughout the project. The tracks “The Light” and “What’s the Occasion?” are the group’s attempts at paying tribute to their rock influences, featuring rap verses played over heavy electric guitar instrumentation. The song “Chain On” featuring JPEGMafia benefits from a simplistic bouncy, electronic, bubbly beat that supports JPEGMafia’s and McLennon’s lyric-heavy verses.
The song “Dear Lord” is an interesting one for the band, as the two-minute track is mostly made up of a chorus of voices, led by Bearface, harmonizing and pleading to God to help out someone they know in need. The song is done mostly a cappella, made up of voices and snaps until the final thirty seconds, when the choir is joined by a gentle keyboard. This track is most different from the rest on the album, creating a euphoric listening experience that truly presents Bearface’s talents.
A gripe I have with “Roadrunner” is that we don’t hear enough of all the members. While there is plenty of Joba and Abstract on the album and the features are some of the highlights on the project, it comes at the expense of limited time for the other equally talented Brockhampton vocalists.
McLennon is arguably the best lyricist in the band, Wood has a fun, infectious energy that notably rubs off on the other members, Champion’s contributions have been responsible for some of Brockhampton’s most recognizable tracks and Bearface’s R&B-like vocals and emotional songwriting make him to Brockhampton what Frank Ocean was to Odd Future. While we didn’t get enough of the rest of the members, their roles here are still memorable enough to let this issue slide.
Abstract said on Twitter that there will be one more Brockhampton project releasing this year, which will be the group’s last. As a longtime fan, I hope this isn’t the case as this project may be their strongest since the “Saturation” trilogy.
But if it does turn out to be true, the maturity and development each member has shown since the band’s breakthrough four years ago proves they will do just fine whenever they go in their own directions. I, for one, will be looking forward to listening to each of their solo records in the future.