Brockhampton have often flirted with the idea of The End. Take the final instalment of ‘Saturation’, their breakthrough 2017 album trilogy, which mock-claimed that it was “the last studio album by Brockhampton”, or when the collective’s leader Kevin Abstract had to assure fans that they hadn’t split up after he dared to release a solo EP in April 2019. Speaking to NME four months later ostensibly about the band’s close-knit, all-under-one-roof creative process, Abstract acknowledged: “The worst part for me is just that I know it’s gonna end at some point. I won’t always have this house to go to. People get older, you know? Somebody’s gonna have a kid or something.”
Three years on, and it now seems like Brockhampton really have reached the point of no return. Having announced prior to 2021’s ‘Roadrunner: New Light, New Machine’ that they would be bowing out after two more studio albums, Brockhampton then played their final billed live show at this year’s Coachella. Softening the blow for their fanbase, however, was a parting gift: their seventh studio album ‘The Family’, which would usher in their “indefinite hiatus”. Or so it seemed: upon its release yesterday (November 17) the group also announced ‘TM’, a surprise extra album comprised of recordings from their 2021 sessions in Ojai, California that have been finished by bandmember Matt Champion, and details of a special livestream show in LA. It is difficult to say goodbye, we suppose.
Then again, Brockhampton have long been renowned for their prolific output – this is a group who released their first five albums in just over two years – so it shouldn’t be too surprising to learn that they’ve opted to take the scenic route on their final outing. But are their hearts still in it? “The label needed 35 minutes of music / It’s the true shit,” Abstract almost sighs on the fluctuating lead single ‘Big Pussy’, having conceded on previous track ‘Gold Teeth’: “Did we sign for too many motherfucking albums? Probably.”
This would appear to be the official Brockhampton stance on the matter, given that Abstract is the sole lead vocalist on ‘The Family’. Working on the record with just Brockhampton’s Bearface and Romil Hemnani (LA artist boylife also serves as an executive producer), this pared down approach will likely disappoint some fans who hoped to hear final contributions from vocalists Champion, Joba, Merlyn Wood and Dom McLennon. But this is Abstract’s moment to write the final Brockhampton chapter, and it’s heavy on the confessions. “This the most corrupted vision / I turned my friendship into a business into an empire,” he reflects on the penultimate track ‘The Ending’, one of a number of instances across the record where he pointedly looks back on the group’s rollercoaster ride from their organic Texan beginnings to becoming major label signees living it up in LA.
All hasn’t been rosy in California, though. Abstract revisits past inter-band tensions on the breezy ‘All That’, namely a conflict that stemmed from him not joining his bandmates at the 2019 BRIT Awards: “I was trying go solo before we went on tour… But honestly, I shouldn’t’ve said what I said / I should’ve went to therapy instead.” He later admits on ‘Good Time’ to creating a “toxic relationship” with his bandmates because “I turn everything into art”.
Musically-speaking, ‘The Family’ is primarily powered by big beats and a host of chopped-up soul samples (‘RZA’, ‘Take It Back’, ‘Boyband’) that recall early-career Kanye West (debatably a possible stylistic nod to how Brockhampton formed on the Kanye To The forum). ‘All That’ is the record’s poppiest moment, with lush, TLC-style R&B vocal harmonies in the chorus demonstrating Abstract and his collaborators’ dexterity in the pop arena, while the brief-and-balladic ‘Any Way You Want Me’ and ‘My American Life’ are two of the record’s true curveballs. The latter features just an acoustic guitar and tambourine as the humble accompaniment to the song’s increasingly frantic vocals: “Sometimes I wish we could speak, but I have nothing to say.”
‘The Family’ signs off with ‘Brockhampton’, which drops the beats and dials up the tear-jerking orchestral strings as a contrite Abstract delivers his closing remarks. “I wish I knew the day that we signed that it would change shit,” he notes at one point as he lists his recollections, regrets and reasons to smile about the band’s journey to this point. It’s here that he also individually praises Champion, Joba, Merlyn, Dom and producer Jabari, which should reduce some of the potential discontentment about their absence from the album.
“This next chapter is everything that we wanted it to be,” Abstract then concludes. “The show’s over, get out your seats.” Roll the credits: this really does feel like the end of the Brockhampton story.
- Release date: November 17, 2022
- Record label: RCA / Question Everything