Brockhampton party like it’s 2017 on ‘ROADRUNNER’

Brockhampton+look+into+the+light+on+%22ROADRUNNER.%22+Art+by+Jessica+Shippelhoute

Jessica Shippelhoute

Brockhampton look into the light on “ROADRUNNER.” Art by Jessica Shippelhoute

After years of countless controversies and artistic detours, Brockhampton has returned with “ROADRUNNER: NEW LIGHT, NEW MACHINE,” focusing on emotionally potent, but colorful and bright bangers.

Ever since signing to RCA Records, Brockhampton has been in an uphill battle. From losing one of their core members, Ameer Vann, to a slew of allegations against members, it seemed like the “Saturation” trilogy would be their peak. Between “iridescence” and “GINGER,” the group put their coping and healing process on public display. While not completely past their misfortunes, Brockhampton’s newest album is a throwback to what made them blow up in the first place.

This is definitely not “Saturation IV,” but “ROADRUNNER” channels the elements of what made those projects so easy to love. Vibrant, high-energy production mixed with the boyband’s eccentric personalities sets the foundation. But a larger budget and access to some A-list features sets this project apart from those early endeavors.

Kevin Abstract, Matt Champion and the rest of the gang tread familiar ground lyrically for the most part. It’s disappointing to see their writing grow so incrementally when the past few years have been anything but slow for them.

The members that do step up to the occasion are Dom McClennon and Joba, with the latter functioning as the emotional core to the album. Joba’s horrific verse on “THE LIGHT” is one of the most harrowing verses he has ever written. He details his own response to his father’s suicide with gruesome imagery: “Think I always will be haunted by the image / Of a bloody backdrop, skull fragments in the ceiling” provides insight to just a fraction of the trauma he has endured.

Joba’s single verse on this song is some of the most emotionally raw content Brockhampton has ever released. So when Kevin Abstract comes on the second half of the song, it completely undercuts the feelings the listener is likely going through. His verse and storytelling is sad without a doubt, describing the tensions created by his sexuality in a religious family, but it also sounds like a verse that could’ve ended up on almost any Brockhampton song — this album or otherwise — considering how often he raps about this topic.

Other than “THE LIGHT” and “THE LIGHT PT. II,” the boyband keeps things relatively light. “BUZZCUT” kicks the album off with one of their zaniest and most dynamic beats they’ve ever made, with Danny Brown fitting like a glove as a feature. 

“CHAIN ON” diverges the furthest from the rest of the songs aesthetically — because it isn’t the first time they’ve released it — but is organic, as if JPEGMAFIA and company showed up in the studio to freestyle for a few hours, splicing together the best verses of the day and making a song out of it.

Merlyn Wood excels on “ROADRUNNER” more than he ever has before. Usually relegated to the “wild card” role, he rides over the beats effortlessly, consistently showing off his writing chops in a way he never had up to this point, with “WINDOWS” probably being the best example.

After the mega-success of “SUGAR” from 2019’s “GINGER,” it seems the boys are leaning into their sweet, poppy side more than on any other project. From “COUNT ON ME” to “OLD NEWS,” their intentions are clear, and it’s hard to complain too much considering how catchy their hooks are, especially when put through an early-2000s filter. With that being said, these songs can begin to feel like continued attempts to capitalize off of the momentum “SUGAR” generated for them.

Brockhampton never truly “fell off,” as many of their critics have claimed for the past few years. They certainly had growing pains, but “ROADRUNNER” sounds like they have finally steered themselves back on track. If you think their last good project was “SATURATION III,” then this album might get you hopping back on the bandwagon. If you’ve stuck with them through all of their trials, you probably already know how good this album is.

Recommended listening setting: Out in the sun.

Score: 7/10

Thomas Stremfel can be reached at [email protected] or @tomstremfel on Twitter