It says a lot about the messed up nature of the 21st century that rap collective Brockhampton have been styled as a boyband; once the soulless inventions of music moguls churning out third rate pap for teenagers, the modern day equivalent is built from less malleable stuff.
Roadrunner – New Light, New Machine is a clumsy title for what it’s claimed is their demi-swansong – a second, supposedly their last, is due later this year, although it feels a little like we’ve heard that line before.
What isn’t in dispute is that it’s been a difficult time (and then some) since the group’s last album Ginger, although impatient fans did subsequently get the Technical Difficulties mixtape, premiered in disparate fashion on YouTube and Twitch.
Some of the issues have been on the outside, some on the in; during 2019 founder Kevin Abstract hailed the influence on their music of Shia LaBeouf, only for him to be subsequently accused of abusive behaviour by former girlfriend FKA Twigs.
A similar alleged pattern of behaviour led to the charges being laid against former member Ameer Van – as a result of which he was thrown out.
For a band formed in a communal setting in Texas, both situations must’ve hurt, but on Roadrunner the scars go deeper; The Light I & II see Joba talking explicitly about his father’s suicide, jumping straight in with: ‘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.’
Abstract has recently declared himself tired of both the boyband label and the baggage it brings, while for inspiration this time he listened to nothing but The Beatles for four months straight; to the casual observer, some kind of reset seems on the way.
Any references to the Fab Four’s cherubic harmonies or late period psychedelia are buried, but on opener Buzzcut guest Danny Brown talks about, ‘White on the street, walking the beat like Abbey Road’, in amongst an avalanche of typically intricate rhymes and angst. Whatever happens after it, this constitutes the gun start.
Co-stars help and, at times, it feels like Abstract is leaning on them a bit too heavily. JPEGMAFIA, for example, brings a chilled, abstract Cali vibe to Chain On, and A$APs Rocky and Ferg are part of Bankroll’s punky, weirded out feel; this is the sort of creative fuzz which once upon a time felt naturally theirs to solely own.
The sense that there’s a genuine struggle between putting out light or letting darkness flood in remains omnipresent throughout. The carefree young experimentalists of a few years ago aren’t far away, with Count On Me, the breezy R&B of I’ll Take You On and Dear Lord’s impeccable gospel all soccer mom friendly tunes that prove the sneakers still fit – if they want them to.
But aside from Joba’s gruesome heartaches, good isn’t always there; What’s The Occasion’s abrasive guitar loops bringing some menace, while the G-funk inspired Don’t Shoot Up The Party punches hard at the ‘All American’ susceptibility to homophobia, racism and violence.
It says a lot about the 21st century that these should even be topics society needs to concern itself with anymore, and on Roadrunner – New Light, New Machine Brockhampton at least aren’t hiding from anyone or anything.
Even they might have started to feel however that the only consequence of rule breaking is that people just create new rules.