A&E Review

Kevin Abstract Gives a Go at Grunge With Fourth Studio Album “Blanket”

Kevin Abstract’s brainchild, BROCKHAMPTON, may have met its demise but Abstract is still in the game, releasing his fourth studio album “Blanket.” This is the first album Abstract is releasing under his name since the band’s split, and in true break-up fashion, he is reinventing himself with a rock album. In teasing the album Abstract has said he wanted to make a “Sunny Day Real Estate, Nirvana, Modest Mouse type of record” but have it still “hit like a rap album.”

For Abstract, releasing an album involves a full-out production, a multimedia spectacle. You may have seen the video of him walking on a treadmill for 10 hours before releasing “ARIZONA BABY.” This go-around, rather than a central extravagant production he has scaled down the promotion but has nevertheless ramped up the frequency. The past few months he has been posting from the Instagram account @rubber__head__, casually but consistently promoting the album whilst interacting with fans. The promotion consists of mostly random photographs that have noir undertones, coupled with humorous edits. In a way, he adjusts fans to the more alternative, grunge vibe that he has intended this album to contain but reminding them he’s still Kevin.

The album opens low and slow on “When The Rope Post 2 Break,” which lyrically sets the stage for an album on looking back but maintaining honesty about where he’s at in the present. Following this is the title track “Blanket” with what feels like a more aggressive, grunge deviation from the first track’s production. The transition between tracks feels slightly awkward considering their similarities and left me wondering if “Blanket” would function better as a dynamic bridge of “When The Rope Post 2 Break” rather than each stand-alone.

Abstract has previously expressed his desire to make more pop-sounding records and “Running Out” feels like the manifestation of that. A song paced like “Running Out” has the potential to build up to something big, instead, I felt like I was running circles around the same beat waiting.

Next up are “The Greys” and “Voyager,” which are two tracks that I think emulate the vibe Abstract was looking to curate. The first time I listened to these tracks I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed them, and as I continue to revisit them the more I find them fascinating and unique. Not only are the production and instrumentals tantalizing on each track but there’s a level of awareness in how he plays to the strengths of his unique voice that pays off in dividends by pulling it all together.

The next few tracks feel like wading through mud, there are a few moments where you may think “Oh this is kind of fun” but deep down you really just want to get to the other side and eventually when you get there you will probably think to yourself, “Well, I don’t need to do that again.” Personally, I probably won’t return to either “Today I Gave Up” or “What Should I Do?” I felt very neutral listening to these tracks, and they feel like another pair of tracks with a similar sound and that sound is not to the album’s benefit. I wanted to lump “Madonna” into this category, but I recognize it is a unique song, however, one that I think would function better as a track with a bend more towards rap. 

Then the album hits, “Mr. Edwards.” For the first ten seconds of the track, I could almost see it and it brought me to my feet: a Kevin Abstract version of Kanye’s “On Sight” meets Death Grips. But as the seconds crept by, that hope faded fast. It turned out to be a transition track that took us nowhere and set the tone for the next two tracks as unmemorable additions.

At this point, I expected the album to end on a punk rock-rap ballad, but instead along came two sentimental acoustic tracks with indie influence, and they pulled their weight. “Heights, Spiders, and the Dark” successfully executes the marriage of dark instrumental undertones with tender lyrics, opening the door for the last track, “My Friend.” The final track employs the addition of indie musicians MJ Lenderman and Kara Jackson. It’s one of the stronger tracks on the album and is a testament to Abstract’s innate ability to pull together multiple talents to make something greater.

Undoubtedly Abstract has created a unique sound on this record, but throughout listening I found myself comparing the base rhythms of tracks to other songs. “When The Rope Post 2 Break” feels like the only song with Nirvana influence on the album but it’s poignant. “Running Out” sounded like a deep-fried variant of Harry Styles’ “As It Was.” The consistent guitar throughout “What Should I Do?” is almost exactly “Runner” by Alex G. The influences that Abstract cited don’t necessarily come through in the album as I would have anticipated, quite frankly I feel like they were lost in the noise.

There are moments on this album where Abstract hits the mark but in perspective of the album as a whole, these moments are few and far between. For most tracks I found myself wanting him to take it to the next level. I’m not saying that every rock song needs an insane electric guitar riff, but I do think more dynamic chord progressions and bridges that bring it home would be helpful to keep listeners hanging on until the last note.

But there’s a certain boldness to “Blanket” that one cannot ignore, Abstract, who considers himself a rapper, put out a rock album. While experimenting with the fluidity of genres is nothing new for Abstract, this album shows his tenacity in finding the sound he desires. There are a lot of uninspiring moments on the record, but the ones that stand out are those where he commits to the genre and can create these compelling journeys within the song rather than running in circles around the first harmony he lands on.

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