Quick Take: New albums by BROCKHAMPTON and Lana Del Rey showcase duality of music styles

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Emily Burgess

BROCKHAMPTON member Kevin Abstract

by Ryan Hardison, Senior Staff Writer

There are two contrasting varieties of sound in music, and many far in between. Like yin and yang, the healing power of loud and quiet music represents duality and a comparative push-pull relationship. 

These ranges embody different harmonic qualities but are equally evocative. The haunting subtlety of softer music inserts itself into your deepest memories and is often more nostalgic. On the other end, abrasive, blaring music can enter at the forefront of your brain and attack your thoughts directly. Each listener has their respective preferences, and each is just as powerful and sublime as the other. 

Lana Del Rey and Brockhampton are positioned at each side of this spectrum. 

Lana Del Rey is a fixture in the gentle, minimal side of music. Her songs have always had a soft tinge of intimacy and play out like a fantasy that isn’t always happy or sad but consistently captivating. 

Brockhampton is a group of born rock stars whose powerful sound packs a sensitive punch that traces back to the members’ respective childhoods. Trauma and passion unify them and also highlight the aggressive, personal strengths in their verses. 

As finals season rears its ugly head, try spinning these albums to pass the time when you’re fed up with reading virtual textbooks and perusing Quizlet:  

Lana Del Rey – “Chemtrails Over the Country Club” 

Lana Del Rey has grown tremendously as a singer and songwriter while staying firmly planted in her nostalgia-soaked Americana interests. She manages to land in some kind of public controversy on a regular basis, the most recent being an ill-timed Instagram post admiring the romance of Prince Phillip and Queen Elizabeth, but Del Rey has matured – musically at least. 

Her previous album “Norman Fucking Rockwell!” was one of 2019’s best and her finest yet, and “Chemtrails Over the Country Club,” released March 19, finds her in similar inspirational territory but based on a surprisingly new environment. Its orchestrations are much smaller in scale than “Rockwell,” and the attention shifts east of California scenic ques that you’ll find on an “underrated spots” TikTok and into a spacious, rural setting, straying from the self-centered public eye.                                                              

Her affinity for starting anew and escaping the pressures of California is centered on escaping her celebrity and exploring faraway love. Del Rey still connects with her past material but her anecdotes of fame and romance are less melancholy and there’s even a concealed amount of joy in the depths of her mellow tunes.                      

The pulse of this album is closer to traditional folk music than her other releases and it pays homage to numerous folk figures. She even covers Joni Mitchell’s 1970 song “For Free,” which follows a similar theme of an isolated musician. The eleven tracks on the project contain a bit of country twang that help the songs embody the vigor of heartland saloon music, including the ragtime and honky-tonk of “Dance Till We Die.”

One of the more interesting components of her new album is the dissection of the title. Chemtrails are an infamous conspiracy theory that claims mysterious chemical agents are being dropped on Americans by overhead planes for nefarious government purposes. Meanwhile, country clubs refer to social status and the presence of class, elegance, and exclusivity. They are members-only enterprises that act as their own private community with lavish golf courses, tennis courts and swimming pools, attracting the loyalty of rich customers. 

The title track delves into these two seemingly unrelated ideas and shows how they are an important part of Del Rey’s current mindset. It positions her under the sun at the country club in a state of blissful ignorance while spotting supposed “chemtrails” in the sky. The production is extremely minimal and her voice is able to roam prolonged. She contains a sense of wistful freedom as she dreams of an escape from her constraints. This also conjures an adventurous pioneer spirit carried out through the song’s majestic melody.

This same spirit can be found on “Wild At Heart,” a dreamy, scintillating song that follows Del Rey as she drifts to the Midwest. It’s unclear exactly where, but a place that doesn’t include the never-ending spotlight and pressure of Calabasas. Del Rey feels overwhelmed to the point of despair and compares her struggles to the tragic death of Princess Diana and the possible role of the hounding paparazzi in her passing: “The cameras have flashes, they cause the car crashes / But I’m not a star.”

As exemplified by her music, romance never comes easy for Lana Del Rey. It’s always a double-edged sword. This rings true on “Tulsa Jesus Freak” where Del Rey envisions herself and her beau staying “white-hot forever,” meaning that even though their relationship is volatile, the connection is electric. She makes allusions to Christianity that disclose her partner’s serious drinking problem and lack of religious fulfillment. The troubled relationship is fiery and combative and doesn’t provide the constant happiness she desires or deserves. Though it makes things unpredictable, she’s trying to make it last. 

Del Rey extends the depths of her vocal range by opening “White Dress” with a faint squealing pitch. She undergoes self-reflection and contemplates her past during a “simpler time” before becoming famous and wonders if she’d be happier without a musical career. There’s a sonic emphasis on piano and organ and Del Rey envisions herself as a waitress wearing a white dress: a relic of a forgotten time.

Not leaving much time to idle between releases, Del Rey announced a follow-up album, “Rock Candy Sweet,” which will be released on June 1. Maybe love will work out for her this time. 

Brockhampton – “RoadRunner: New Light, New Machine” 

To connect with their audience during the dull and confusing first stage of pandemic quarantine, 13-man rap supergroup Brockhampton began previewing unreleased songs and music videos as part of their “Technical Difficulties” series. Following its end last summer, the group’s unofficial leader Kevin Abstract announced plans for two final albums before the group disbands at the end of 2021. The first of these two projects appeared April 9 as “RoadRunner: New Light, New Machine,” a cumulative account of their dark experiences with love and family, erected with big-name appearances that show how far they’ve advanced from their scattered internet origins. 

Referring to themselves as hip-hop’s first boy band, Brockhampton has crafted a sound far more complex than the average boy band prototype. The group was initially birthed as Alive Since Forever in 2013, after Abstract spearheaded member recruitment on the Kanye West fan platform Kanyetothe. From there, the group rebranded as Brockhampton and emerged with an excessively large cast of performers, producers and creatives all tracing back to the online forum. Though the essential core of the group (Abstract, Joba, Merlyn Wood, Matt Champion) met during high school in Woodlands, Texas, most of the members grew up apart in various corners of the country (and Northern Island). Together they represent a distinct collective composed of various cultures, sexual orientations and heartaches that fuel their resilient output as a lineup. 

Their music is traditionally earmarked by experimental sounds inspired by 2000s rap and pop, including their aggressively loud siren loops and an in-your-face style that demands further attention to their remarks. They’re cocky, assertive, expressive and all their tracks are deservedly displayed in all caps. 

On this album, Brockhampton’s brain-bending production choices are scaled back a bit and there are no aggressive alarms or buzzers that distract from the lyrical content. Their infectious confidence is matched by fast and frantic artists who identify with this style (Danny Brown, JPEGMafia, A$AP Ferg). Every poignant topic is fair game along with a healthy amount of flexing, from Dom McLennon’s naive childhood perspective of relatives going in and out of jail (“When I Ball”) to Merlyn Wood rapping about how this jewelry is white like rice. These qualities make every song worthwhile and cement it as their best release since “Saturation III.”

They’ve never strayed away from their life-shattering tragedies and violent internal struggles, but on “RoadRunner,” their stories are centered in every aspect. There are many to choose from, but the album’s darkest moment comes when JOBA delves deep into the aftermath of his father’s suicide on himself and his mom on the guitar-heavy “THE LIGHT” and the jarring “THE LIGHT PT. II.” Throughout these tracks, it’s clear JOBA is still working through the experience and struggling to understand his dad’s actions. In an interview with The Guardian, he reflected on his dad’s death and divulged the meaning and significance behind “the light.”                   

“It’s about stepping … into the light, so to speak. Or stepping into the hope and holding on for dear life,” JOBA said.  

On the entire project, “the light” serves as a constant theme. Even when spiraling further into chaos, Brockhampton preaches that “the light is worth the wait,” adding a more spiritual tone to the already serious material.

As a crew with more bodies on stage than the Wu-Tang Clan, you’d think it’d be easy to get lost confused about who’s on the mic. But with each project, individual members establish unique signatures, making it easy to identify the group’s revolving cast of voices. They routinely have an array of members hop on a track and propel each other, and this tracklist provides enough room for the guys to carve out their own spectacular solo efforts as well. 

Fan-favorite singer Bearface celebrated for his affectionate solo performances like “SUMMER” and “WASTE,” adds another track to his repertoire with the religious stunner “Dear Lord.” He also croons toe-to-toe with legendary vocalist Charlie Wilson on “I’ll Take You On,” and somehow equals the sensual intensity of Wilson’s voice. Plus, the group’s best lyricist Matt Champion, shines on “Windows,” a posse cut crafted by the group’s three main producers (Romil Hemnani, Jabari Manwa and Kiko Merley), which also gives Bearface a rare chance to rap. 

However, there’s no question that the most emphatic song is the G-funk anthem “Don’t Shoot Up the Party,” It begins with an explosive Kevin Abstract verse where he recalls battling homophobia, toxic masculinity and colonial mentality from a young age. He depicts his Corpus Christi roots in an intensely paranoid delivery like he’s still dashing from his past demons.

On this album, as in their previous collections, Brockhampton congregates as their very own family unit. Each new release unmasks a fresh page in their family scrapbook, except instead of exciting childhood mementos, it contains fiercely personal epiphanies. They’re focused and fully defiant as ever, so expect for them to go out with a bang on their upcoming final album.

Additional Albums to Check Out:

Seafood Sam – “Rocco’s World” 

Skullcrusher – “Storm in Summer” EP

Young Dolph and Key Glock – “Dum and Dummer 2” 

L’Imperatrice – “Tako Tsubo” 

Serpentwithfeet – “Deacon”

Joyce Wrice – “Overgrown”

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