The summer of 2017 was marked by a plethora of cultural phenomena — Beyoncé gave birth to twins and “Despacito” became the most streamed song of all time, among other great pop culture moments. But for some, the summer of 2017 was defined not by a single moment, but a gradual blossoming of the boy band Brockhampton.
Brockhampton, a genre-defying and multimedia-crusading boy band, took the internet by storm with their “Saturation” album trilogy. In September 2018 the supergroup released “Iridescence,” an album recorded in just 10 days in the world-famous Abbey Road Studios. However, while a collective Brockhampton is solidifying its place in the popular music canon, its individual members are breaking into their creative pockets as well.
Kevin Abstract is one of the founding members this exuberant, youthful boy band which first came together through an online Kanye West fan forum. In his new record “Arizona Baby” — which dropped Thursday — listeners find themselves situated right into the American South, which is at the root of Abstract’s identity.
Throughout “Arizona Baby,” it is pretty obvious that the record is a no-holds-barred autobiographical account of Kevin Abstract. While he explores this record with newfound musical curiosity — with the assistance of super-producer Jack Antonoff — he moreover explores within himself. In just 11 songs, listeners get an intimate glimpse into the world of Kevin Abstract, as he engages with his sexuality, identity, space and psyche.
With “Arizona Baby,” Abstract pursues many different directions with the soundscape of his project. Almost every single song has a transfixing, confusing and borderline jarring instrumental patch that could puzzle fans. “Use Me” meshes a gospel chorus with a cricket chirp, “Mississippi” sounds like something straight out of Radiohead’s “Kid A” with some hip-hop flavor and the closing instrumental to “Big Wheels” feels like a bad trip on acid. These sounds help further develop Abstract’s collaborative and constructive genius. But Abstract finds himself at his best when he’s at his simplest.
On “Peach,” Abstract calls on the help of fellow Brockhampton members JOBA and bearface for help with the sticky, summer-sunshine chorus alongside up-and-coming underground pop star Dominic Fike. On the song, Abstract tenderly reminisces on a past relationship. The gorgeous voices of the three guests combine to create an incredible, layered earworm. Brockhampton faithful are certain to advocate for Fike’s addition to the boy band after his contributions to the project.
“Baby Boy” is a quiet, gorgeous, almost drugged-out confession of obsession. Frequent Brockhampton collaborator Ryan Beatty hops on to contribute a beautifully haunting hook. It is an endearing ballad of trust, longing and desire. The closing instrumental of the song is a elegant outpouring of instrumental emotion — building to nothing and ending in an aimless drift.
But all in all, the allure of “Arizona Baby” is exemplified by the fourth track — “Corpus Christi,” named after Abstract’s Texas hometown. The song functions as a diary entry — a scattered, directionless outburst of emotional release. Abstract touches on a plethora of intriguingly intimate topics — from family issues to doing cocaine on tour to longing to know of the wellbeing of former Brockhampton member Ameer Vann, who was kicked out of the group in May 2018 after allegations of sexual misconduct. “Corpus Christi” is raw and genuinely heartbreaking.
One of the only places “Arizona Baby” falls short is the lack of development in lyrical topics from what fans expect from Kevin Abstract. For example, Abstract somehow mentions that he “was sleeping on Jon’s couch” on literally every single project he appears on - verbatim. We get it! But there’s a certain peculiar beauty in this shortcoming. This project is deeply rooted in reflection — on the past, on the present, on the future, on identity, on love and on sadness. Perhaps the key to finding the beauty of this record is finding the beauty in Abstract being entirely himself.
Or perhaps there is no key to deeper understanding. Perhaps the point is that the record is not beautiful — as evidenced by the abrasive and discomforting cover art. Maybe the beauty in “Arizona Baby” is that the record is only exactly what he can be, and nothing more.