The highly anticipated conclusion to the trilogy of albums that has springboarded American boyband BROCKHAMPTON into the eyes and ears of the public is finally here. The finale, SATURATION III, has all the charm of their previous two releases, yet stands on its own as a completely unique beast; it’s the most unorthodox SATURATION by far, in that it cuts back on the catchy hooks and muddy banger beats, and experiments with its sound styles.
The opening track, “BOOGIE,” serves as a statement of intent for this album’s experimentation. While not my favorite SATURATION single they’ve released, it has by far the most out-there sounds on the album, possibly of any BROCKHAMPTON song ever. Upon first listen, I wasn’t feeling its repetitive blaring horns, sirens, and heavy bass, which made it feel a bit overproduced. However, after more listens, it grew on me as one of the most fun and energetic records of the trio of projects. It features concise verses from each performer and a beat that is unlike anything else I’ve heard this year – just so groovy.
“ZIPPER” and “STUPID” are among the only attempts here to go for hard-hitting slaps with catchy hooks. They weren’t chosen to be the album’s singles as past bangers, like “GUMMY,” “STAR,” “HEAT,” “GOLD,” “JUNKY,” “SWEET,” “SWAMP,” and “BOYS,” have all been, signifying a turn away from this kind of track as the album’s focus. Even so, they are well-executed in typical BROCKHAMPTON style: “ZIPPER” is reminiscent of some mid-2000s N.E.R.D stuff, while “STUPID” is consistent with the 90s west coast G-funk sound they have employed on every album thus far.
Another bout of unconventional song structure occurs within the first half of “SISTER/NATION.” “SISTER” is driven by a bouncy techno-synth loop with some pounding, messy, industrial Death Grips-style drums. At one point, it transitions into an otherworldly synth that sounds almost extraterrestrial with an autotuned Dom McLennon rapping over it. There’s also a spoken-word bit on “SISTER” narrated by none other than Robert ‘Roberto’ Ontenient, the Spanish-speaking narrator of all the skits, scenes, and “cinemas” laced throughout the band’s three albums, cementing the SATURATION trilogy (and its music videos) as one continuous story. Because of its nostalgic, vaporwave synth, the instrumental of “NATION” sounds like something you might hear scored in an 80’s TV show.
The following track, “JOHNNY,” is one of the best on the album. The beat is an astounding mix of instruments with a short and sweet saxophone sample serving as the cherry on top. It’s a fairly uptempo and upbeat track, yet the verses are grim representations of the group’s pessimistic thoughts about themselves. JOBA, in particular, delivers a standout heartfelt verse that is forged with brutal honesty. I can’t wait to hear BROCKHAMPTON ringleader Kevin Abstract’s “I love it when the people go wild for me” chorus at a live show. The song transitions smoothly into “LIQUID,” my favorite of the 1-minute SATURATION interludes. The beat, with its screeching horn, is strangely atmospheric, and the verses play off of each other really well.
The album takes a pop outlook with songs like “HOTTIE” and “RENTAL,” both of which have infectious hooks performed by Kevin. The atmospheric keyboard on “HOTTIE” paired with the upbeat drums sounds like some old Gorillaz stuff, and the night-time piano chords buried at the back of the mix hint at a depth sometimes absent from the band’s typically sparser beats. Just like “BOOGIE,” “HOTTIE” is riddled with a slew of compact mini-verses, all strangely dark in their contemplation of life. Matt Champion’s pre-chorus is catchy and light-hearted, and I like the high-pitched keys that compliment it. His vocals on the bridge are as mind-blowingly good as they are unexpected. Despite the pop-sounding elements here, BROCKHAMPTON continues to show that the art they are making is miles ahead of most of the stuff you hear on the radio.
“BLEACH” is easily my favorite BROCKHAMPTON song of all time. The hook, “Who got the feeling / Tell me why I cry when I feel it / Tell me why / Tell me why,” is incredibly simple, yet Ryan Beatty’s performance is beautifully angelic. The verses are as wavy as they were on similarly romantic past tracks, like “FACE” from SATURATION. I was starstruck as soon as I heard the first three or so minutes of it that featured in Billy Star, a BROCKHAMPTON short film that released a few days prior to the album’s official release. Now that I’ve heard the full thing, the last minute and a half brings about a whole other dimension of the song that concludes it perfectly. Bearface’s final vocals and Kevin’s catchy refrain over a G-funk synth and a demented distortion are brilliant.
Bearface, the resident ballad-writer who has closed every SATURATION entry, appears again on the closer “TEAM” for yet another ballad, which is my least favorite of the three album closers (which doesn’t actually say much because all of them are beautiful). However, the drop where Bearface transitions to falsetto is orgasmic to the ear. I also appreciate the surprise instrumental change at the track’s halfway point; it spices up their traditional ballad closer. To top it all off, the track neatly ties together the trilogy by ending with where it started, seamlessly syncing with SATURATION’s intro, “HEAT.”
For me this album’s biggest blemish, though, is unfortunately Ameer Vann. Ameer established himself as a fan favorite and the group’s hardest rapper with the first two SATURATION installments. The sheer slapability and toughness of his verses made him my favorite performer on those two records (besides Kevin Abstract of course). But on the finale, Ameer’s writing often feels lazy. He relies far too heavily on one particular flow and delivery which he’s been rhyming with since SATURATION. It’s not terrible, but it’s gotten very repetitive to hear the same flow from him over the course of three consecutive albums.
Even so, this didn’t take much away from a phenomenal record, as nearly everyone else appears to be improving. Ameer stepping back allows members like JOBA and Matt Champion, both of which are fantastic on this album, to shine massively. They both mixed it up with their flows and vocals in ways that paid off well; I also found that they both opened up quite a bit. Kevin Abstract is captivating as always, delivering M.I.A.-like, vocally-altered, earworm hooks and refrains, as well as a few of his trademark introspective verses that we’ve come to expect. Bearface’s vocals are just as beautiful and intimate as they have always been; even with his comparatively limited presence in the SATURATION trilogy, he’s probably the member of the band that seems most primed for a stellar solo album (besides Kevin). Dom McLennon continues to be the group’s most technically gifted rapper, consistently adding a dimension of poise and wit, even on tracks that are clearly just for fun. Even Merlyn Wood, who’s known more for his eccentric, yelping delivery than he is for his lyricism, steps it up lyrically on this one.
However, for me, the biggest improvement is apparent in the production. The boyband’s producers, i.e. Romil Hemnani, Jabari Manwa, Kiko Merley (whose trading card I got in my SATURATION boxset), and JOBA, have evolved so much creatively over this trilogy. Sonically, this third album is my favorite of the three; it’s brilliantly layered and structured around so many interesting complexities that make much more than one listen necessary. The first two albums were some of the most focused and uniquely crafted projects of the year, and yet this one still stands out as the project with the best instrumentals of the year, a testament to the rapid growth they’ve undergone over just half a year. For real, throw this shit on in the whip front to back, and you’ll know what I mean.
For now, it’s difficult to determine if this is my overall favorite in the trilogy, as all three hold a special place in my heart. Whether or not this final installment is the best of BROCKHAMPTON’s three studio albums, their 2017 run of releases is still an incredible accomplishment that we’ll be discussing for years to come. It’s already unheard of that a relatively unknown boyband could emerge out of nowhere to make a trilogy of classics featuring some of the most creative soundscapes in modern music, but to do that while addressing issues that counter contemporary hip-hop culture, like homosexuality, and do it all within the span of six months no less? This era will, in and of itself, forever be a landmark in hip-hop.
Not to mention, the band’s story is truly inspiring, and their sentiments are deeply relatable and motivating. Watching the documentary they just released involving the creation of these three albums will show you that their work rate is one that deserves to be commended. I mean, shit, they’ve already announced a fourth album called TEAM EFFORT that will come in 2018. In the meantime, this record will more than suffice. America’s favorite boyband has certainly succeeded in saturating us with their outstanding art (and hitting us with that three-peat).
Favorite tracks: “BOOGIE,” “JOHNNY,” “LIQUID,” “STUPID,” “BLEACH,” “HOTTIE,” “RENTAL,” “TEAM”
Least favorite tracks: “STAINS”
Written by Anthony Vega