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The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Opinion | Kevin Abstract’s ‘Blanket’ is one of the year’s best albums

Courtesy of RCA Records

Following the breakup of alternative “boy band” Brockhampton — a prolific collective of singers, rappers, producers and various other creatives that gained prominence following 2017’s “Saturation” trilogy — front man Kevin Abstract has followed in the footsteps of other boy band standouts (Justin Timberlake, Harry Styles, etc.) and refocused his efforts on a career as a solo artist with his most recent full-length release, “Blanket.”

Abstract is no stranger to solo work, having gained a cult following prior to Brockhampton’s formation with 2016’s “American Boyfriend: A Suburban Love Story.” He later released “Arizona Baby” in 2019 and even undertook Brockhampton’s “final” record (later followed up by the surprise release “TM”) as a solo endeavor with 2022’s “The Family.”

However, “Blanket” does mark a unique turn in Abstract’s sonic direction from both his previous standalone material and his work with Brockhampton. It is a truly individual statement that sees Abstract returning to his singer-songwriter roots while simultaneously carving out a new style that listeners had not previously seen him embrace. 

Abstract has never shied away from surprising his audience, often using curveball songs as lead singles to announce a stark change in his artistic direction, like on the Brockhampton tracks “I Been Born Again,” “J’ouvert,” or “Buzzcut.” The same strategy was utilized in the runup to “Blanket,” as clips from Abstract’s live listening parties surfaced that revealed an unexpectedly grungy, rock sound. This new direction was then confirmed by the short, eclectic, guitar-laden tones of the title track, which doubled as a lead single in early October.

When the full album debuted Nov. 3, listeners were able to experience the breadth of Abstract’s new sonic landscape. Intro track “When the Rope Post 2 Break” is an oxymoron of a song, feeling reminiscent of Abstract’s past work with his signature use of pitched vocals while simultaneously sounding like nothing we’ve ever heard the artist tackle before. It eases you into the eerie, grungy, emo atmosphere of “Blanket” without holding your hand. It is the perfect mission statement for an album that is unabashedly dedicated to artful self-expression. 

But by no means does this experimentation lead to a lack of catchiness on “Blanket” — Abstract has always had a knack for writing memorable hooks and employing sticky production. “Voyager” and “Madonna” are two standouts on this front, adding pop sentiments to the core recipe of moody vocals and even moodier guitar pallets without throwing off the balance and removing you from the world the album is building around you. 

“What Should I Do?” could also fall into this category, but that song is perhaps even more impressive for just how unconventional it is able to be while remaining a strong earworm. Its placement in the tracklisting is also a testament to the album’s sequencing, as it acts as both a strong introduction to, and foil against, the jarring and fearsome “Mr. Edwards” – seriously, if music is capable of being both listenable and unsettling, this is it.

The record’s incredible closing track, “My Friend,” feels like the calm after a storm with the genuine compassion emanating from its lyrical content and vocal delivery, paired with a clean acoustic guitar that sounds uplifting after 12 tracks of unsettled instrumentation.

The introduction of the only guest vocalists on the entire album, Kara Jackson and MJ Lenderman, also feels like a true turning point, not just for the album, but for Abstract as a musician. These are voices unassociated with Brockhampton and the past six or so years of Kevin’s musical life — they are emblematic of a new direction.

Sonically, “Blanket” clearly draws from many different pools of inspiration — whether they be elements of grunge rock, alternative, indie, emo or any myriad of elements from Abstract’s own discography. At the same time, this record amalgamates these influences into something unique and forward-thinking, a refreshing new perspective on familiar ideas.

It seems fitting for an artist who is looking to find a new path forward without forgetting the past.

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