The Family is BROCKHAMPTON’s seventh studio album, widely advertised as being their last.
Of course, in typical style, the band announced moments before its release that this is, in fact, one of two final albums. The second release, a surprise record of 11 tracks titled TM, followed hot on its heels.
The other significant detail about The Family is that Kevin Abstract is the only BROCKHAMPTON member on the record. Bandmate Ciarán MacDonald, aka Bearface, does record some smooth additional vocals on top of his role as the album’s Executive Producer, but otherwise this is essentially a solo effort.
While it was speculated that there would be limited involvement from the rest of the group’s seven vocalists, a BROCKHAMPTON album without the group dynamic that set the band apart is a strange prospect. Particularly at the band’s end.
The Family is characterised by honesty. Abstract openly admits that the album exists to fulfil a contractual obligation to record label RCA and uses its 35-minute run time to explore his feelings about the band and its break-up.
From the opening track, Take It Back, Kevin sets the tone. Full of references that long-time fans will appreciate and shoutouts to other group members, this is a celebration and not a lament.
RZA, named after the de facto leader of another paradigm-shifting hip-hop collective, builds on this celebratory energy and draws a direct parallel to Wu-Tang Clan with soundbites from RZA himself.
These joyous moments where Abstract shows his love and respect for his bandmates are contrasted with moments of bitterness. Gold Teeth tells some harsh truths about the group in its later years, and All That confirms some long-speculated tensions.
Most notable is Abstract’s admission of reaching out to Ameer Vann – a previous BROCKHAMPTON member kicked out after a sexual misconduct allegation was made against him – leading to conflict in the group.
Kevin’s frustration with his bandmates is most obvious on title track The Family. The theme of fame causing more harm than good is nothing new, but it is surprising that the record should take this self-criticism to its core.
Abstract takes responsibility, admitting to pursuing a solo career at the expense of the band, and competing with his bandmates as BROCKHAMPTON became more successful.
The album has a constant energy, using beautiful soul and gospel samples as a base, which are then pitched and sped up, and creative transitions keep the pace. But the end result is an album packed with ideas that has a rough, unpolished feel.
After a strong start comes a middle section made up of short experimental demos. Most of the tracks on the record are around a minute and a half in runtime but the middle in particular passes very quickly, and is probably where the album is at its weakest.
The closing stages are much stronger. Following the triumphant victory lap that is The Ending, closing track Brockhampton features Abstract shouting at an imagined audience “the show is over, get out your seats.”
He wants us to move on.
Overall, this is a strange note to end on. With Abstract handling all the lead vocals, this is an album dedicated to the leader of an ambitious project coming to terms with its end.
Abstract’s performance on the album is typically excellent, and hearing him jump between positivity and negativity, moments of regretfulness to defiance makes for an engaging listen.
But, it is an interesting decision that the story should be told by just one band member, and inevitably The Family does not benefit from the chemistry that characterises the rest of BROCKHAMPTON’s output.
The question is, is this really a BROCKHAMPTON album? In its experimental nature, ambitiousness, rawness and authenticity, it has to be.
Featured Image Credit: RCA