I will unashamedly admit to being one of those downright annoying fans of Brockhampton. For the past two years, I have been forcing their songs to the top of friend’s Spotify queues, bringing them up in every drunken conversation about music and to put it bluntly, acting as a pretty terrible promoter for the group due to how insufferable I am when I talk about them.
Now that you have an idea of the level of fondness I have for Brockhampton, you can correctly assume that I was incredibly excited for this record even if the album rollout and promotion was rather strange in my opinion.
A new Brockhampton album was confirmed to be “sonically finished” in April 2020 with an expected summer release and the initials ‘RR’ were set to make up the project’s title. This summer release obviously did not materialise, and it wasn’t until last month that the first official teasers began to crop up.
After nearly a whole year of on/off hype, the singles “BUZZCUT” and “COUNT ON ME” were released within a week of each other with the full album arriving soon after, along with the bittersweet announcement that Roadrunner: New Light, New Machine will be the first of two albums released this year, with the latter serving as Brockhampton’s final studio album.
With all this in mind, Roadrunner ran the risk of ending up quite a messy project with no cohesive direction or focus for the group to latch on to and at times it can feel this way, mostly in terms of its sound. The tracks here are a blend of the more hip-hop style found on the Saturation trilogy and iridescence and the more pop-orientation found on 2019’s GINGER.
The track’s “COUNT ON ME”, “I’LL TAKE YOU ON” and “OLD NEWS” lean heavily into the pop-rap sound with some infectious choruses and some of the most danceable moments that can be found not just on the album but within the entire sphere of Brockhampton’s discography.
However, while these tracks are no doubt enjoyable, I think that Roadrunner is at it’s best when it embraces the alternative hip-hop stylings that have made Brockhampton such a huge name within the music landscape.
The aforementioned “BUZZCUT” will no doubt be a highlight for future live shows for its colourful and wild production courtesy of group members Romil Hemnani and Jabari Manwa, and the insanely energetic feature from Danny Brown.
The track “BANKROLL” which has been part of the Brockhampton universe since 2018, finally makes its way onto an album and features possibly Merlyn Wood’s best verse since the ‘iridescence’ era with A$AP Ferg confirming that the group’s decision to involve more features is a major positive for their music.
At around 6 minutes long, “WINDOWS” is one of the group’s longest tracks to date, giving each member ample time to demonstrate their skills amongst a murky and atmospheric beat that altogether reminds me of Odd Future’s “Oldie”.
While the sound of the album may be difficult to pin onto one genre, I feel that the message and atmosphere of Roadrunner does remain rather consistent. Overall, like previous Brockhampton albums, this project is about recovery and healing with elements of relationships, the modern global hellscape we all live in and some strong lyrics and moments about religion.
These ideas appear heavily on the standout track “THE LIGHT” with these organs and heavily distorted guitars creating an incredible atmosphere for JOBA and Kevin Abstract to really shine. Most notably, I want to cast a light on JOBA’s performance on this track.
His verse about his father’s suicide and his current mental state is one of the most emotional verses I’ve heard in recent years. It is truly at times, a difficult listen, but it is undeniably one of the best moments on the record and honestly just makes me want to give JOBA a hug.
These emotions carry through to the album closer “THE LIGHT PT.II” and are backed up by some wistful and melancholic guitars and vocal samples with JOBA and Kevin once more delivering some outstanding lyrics helping to confirm that both of these tracks are some of the strongest of Brockhampton’s entire career.
I’ll be honest, it took me a few listens to genuinely appreciate this album but the more I revisit it, the more I begin to understand how it came to be. Since the end of the Saturation trilogy, Brockhampton have been in recovery in one way or another.
Roadrunner finds themselves bolstering this recovery with a newfound sense of maturity and self-assuredness. If this is really set to be the group’s penultimate album, I think the stage is well and truly set for an incredibly strong finish.
Roadrunner: New Light, New Machine by BROCKHAMPTON is out now via RCA Records, purchase it here and listen to it below.
Words by Tom Owen