BROCKHAMPTON, SATURATION III

image from pitchfork.com

A few days after dropping SATURATION III, BROCKHAMPTON hosted their second annual prom, decking out an L.A. theater with a disco ball, photo booths, and absurdly glitzy chandeliers. Members of the hip-hop collective, who formed a cross-country collaboration after finding each other on an online forum, plugged the event with unflinching sincerity. Co-founder Kevin Abstract, one of the few openly gay rappers on the scene, tweeted “For prom make sure u wear whatever u want. It’s basically a prom for the kids who never got to go to prom… if u wanna wear a hoodie do that no Rules big head​.” It’s this cool-kid brand of eclectic, slapstick inclusivity that has shot many members of the band to viral popularity. But BROCKHAMPTON isn’t relying on a cult of personality to make their living: three solid albums, released over the course of just one year, prove that there’s serious substance behind their internet-savvy charm.

The final album of their SATURATION series sees the 14-person group (counting everyone from rappers to web designers) at their most cohesive. The opening track “BOOGIE” is a certifiably weird banger: funky horns and disorienting sirens announce the return of the “best boy band since One Direction,” an early indication that III is ushering in an evolved production, composition, and vision. Jazz meets indie-psychedelia meets old school rap on tracks like “JOHNNY,” which also features sharp-witted lines like “I could have worked at McDonald’s but I like curly fries / That’s a metaphor for my life, and I like taller guys.” An inferior collective would fall victim to creating a lame patchwork of sound bites from everyone’s favorite song. And to be fair, even in SATURATION III, it sometimes feels like the exuberance, energy, and personalities are outperforming the music itself. But tracks like the lush slow jam “BLEACH” prove that the band is making smarter choices, learning what to strip back and what to turn up in order to make the album a unified work of art.

SATURATION III also sees the band at their most experimental, and tracks like the two-part “SISTER/NATION” nudge BROCKHAMPTON out of their comfort zone. “SISTER” opens with a Death Grips-like intensity and cuts up melodic flow with jarring instrumentals, the sonic equivalent of strobe lights. The second half of the track, “NATION,” keeps a steady instrumental groove but showcases the band at its lyrical prime — “In the eyes of the law, I’m a problem / In the eyes of the blogs, I’m a paycheck / In the eyes of the world, I’m an icon” — until it’s all released at the bridge with a cathartic “Power, African power!” It’d be hard to reject BROCKHAMPTON’s credibility as legitimate musicians if they continue on this path.

The last track on SATURATION III is almost startling in its beauty. An emotional acoustic intro transitions into an ethereal hysteria of guitars before veering into part two, four funk-inflected rap verses commenting on race, state, and religion. The song fades out on sentimental floating vocables. Closing out an unprecedented year for a group of guys who found their start on a Kanye West fan site, the song is appropriately called “TEAM.”