Music Reviews

Admirable Intentions Aside, BROCKHAMPTON’s GINGER Is a Mess


Genre: Pop Rap

Favorite Tracks: “Dearly Departed,” “Victor Roberts”

UNBREAKABLE KIMMY SCHMIDT is the most confounding media property I’ve consumed in my lifetime for reasons that were entirely avoidable. The day after returning from a mentally and physically draining four days at the 2015 iteration of Sasquatch Music Festival (RIP), I, along with a few friends, sat down on a couch and watched the first season of KIMMY. And when I say we sat down and watched, that is literally all we did. None of us so much as stood up during the 13 episode run; the only movements were to tap the remote when Netflix asked us, “Are you still watching? Are you ok? Are you even alive?” It was simultaneously the most passive and most engaged I’ve been while watching TV and it was an experience we talked about with some frequency in the months that followed. We all thoroughly enjoyed the experience, or as much as our serotonin deprived minds could even “enjoy” something in that state, anyway. We all laughed out loud at a rate that surpassed some of the funniest shows on television and eagerly awaited the release of Season Two. When the time came, we reconvened and started Season Two, hoping to recapture the magic of that lazy day and were horrified to learn that, actually, the show sucks shit. We couldn’t even finish the first episode. It was utterly baffling and made us completely rethink that vegetative experience. Was Season One actually good? Had the writers been completely replaced? Is this even the same show? That first question, regarding the quality of the show’s maiden voyage, remains unanswered. We were too scared to rewatch and still to this day have not mustered up the courage.

I mention this because my first listen of GINGER filled me with some of those same feelings. It was bewildering in the same way Ellie Kemper’s jokes in “Kimmy Goes Roller Skating!” landed with the grace of a drunk guy trying gymnastics for the first time. Luckily, for both myself and BROCKHAMPTON, revisits to their back catalogue and their latest effort have assuaged a sizeable chunk of those doubts, though not enough for GINGER to be considered anything other than their worst record to date.

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BROCKHAMPTON’s fifth studio album comes in the midst of an extended transitional period, the genesis of which serves as the thematic anchor of the record. It’s an album that honestly and matter of factly confronts the trauma that former member Ameer Vann has caused both the band and his victims. Vann was rightfully kicked out of the group following a series of sexual abuse allegations that came to light last year in the run up to what was meant to be the band’s fourth LP, PUPPY. The record and accompanying tour were shelved and the band took a brief hiatus to regroup. When BROCKHAMPTON reemerged, they were more mature but they were clearly still emotionally distraught, making for an interesting yet somewhat uncomfortable IRIDESCENCE, a record that saw them make drastic jumps in sampling and lyrical styles but ultimately landed a few steps short of their SATURATION II masterwork.

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With GINGER, BROCKHAMPTON have released the record many, including myself, were expecting last time: a deeply personal record that feels more like an intensely raw therapy session than an album. And like therapy, it’s at times heartbreaking, uncomfortable, and shitty, but it can also be beautiful, sweet, and funny. The best moments on GINGER come courtesy of Dom McLennon. Once a middling member of the group, Dom has improved leaps and bounds in every facet of his craft. He had his fair share of good verses on previous projects, but routinely fell into the same flows and offered little in the way of surprises. “DEARLY DEPARTED” sees Dom operating on a level he had yet to even sniff, unleashing a gut-wrenching, pissed-off verse aimed at Ameer. It’s the first time he’s so bluntly spoken on the matter, chronicling the shit Ameer did, including an anecdote about how Ameer orchestrated a robbery of Dom’s friend and how he never faced the consequences: “Pass the weight off to your friends and never face the truth / Because you never learned how to be a man.” The accompanying music video is their hardest to watch; shot like an intervention, each member emotionally speaks their piece while Merlyn sits frozen, clearly shaken up by the experience. It’s the record’s centerpiece and would be the album’s best song if not for “VICTOR ROBERTS,” a crushing piano ballad on which Dom’s friend Victor tells a story from his childhood when the police raided his family’s house. It’s the first time Roberts has rapped and his talent is undeniable; hopefully this will serve as a launch pad for his career.

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Unfortunately, these two tracks are the only memorable ones of the bunch. “NO HALO” and “SUGAR” make for the slowest start to a BROCKHAMPTON record and even the Persian pop sample on “BOY BYE” isn’t enough to wake the record up. Slowthai’s standalone feature on GINGER is a nice creeping interlude that should’ve hints towards exploding into the next track, but “ST. PERCY” is anything but. It’s the most disappointing moment in the band’s discography and sets the table for a forgettable back half. Pretty much every track on here would’ve served as the energetic nadir on any other BROCKHAMPTON release, which on its face is not necessarily a bad thing, but the production is neither intricate nor ambient, it’s just quiet and dull. Even the faintest flashes of something novel fade in an instant, like the skittery instrumental that begins to bloom towards the end of “ST. PERCY” that fades away before you can even sink your teeth into it. The trombones on “IF YOU PRAY RIGHT” sound downright awful, the bass mixing on “LOVE ME FOR LIFE” is uncharacteristically sloppy, and Bearface’s Auto-Tune on the title track is nauseatingly shrill.

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For most bands, an album like GINGER would signal the beginning of the end, but BROCKHAMPTON’s talent is undeniable and this record serves a purpose far beyond supplying the next batch of tracks. It’s exciting that they were willing to try something completely new knowing that this was going to disappoint a pretty fair chunk of their fans. But luckily for the group, their ravenous hardcore fanbase paired with major label support allows them to explore new sounds and ideas which is all you can really ask of them, especially since their previous four records have all ranged from good to great. BROCKHAMPTON will be back soon and they’ll be better.

Ryan Moloney
I'm workshopping a professional bio.

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