At just 20 years old KEVIN ABSTRACT, the creative prodigy at the forefront of the Brockhampton collective (think Odd Future but more radio-friendly and from Texas), has released his second album; American Boyfriend: A Suburban Love Story. While his first full length, 2014’s experimental MTV1987 featured Crystal Castles samples and darkly personal rapping, American Boyfriend prefers a poppier sound to document outsider adolescence in ill-fitting Texas suburbs.
After a weirdly orchestral intro, ‘Empty’s simple, upbeat piano contrasts with the bleakly mumbled lyrics of hating his yearbook photo, passport, last name and “everything it stands for”. The mix of despair and poppy optimism builds up to the insanely catchy bridge of “I love my Mom, I hate my boyfriend”. It’s a bizarre feel-good anthem of teenage angst and high-school misery, and arguably one of the best pop songs of the year.
In ‘Miserable America’, Abstract sings of Trump’s America, an unaccepting, unsafe setting for a gay black man, where even his “best-friend’s racist”. ‘Empty’’s bridge twists into “my boyfriend saved me, my Mothers homophobic”. ‘American Boyfriend’ is Frank Ocean-esque, building up from soft vocals to spacey guitar solos. Like much of the album, it’s pessimistic, but delivered with warmth and a brave face, it manages to sound comforting and strangely hopeful.
That changes briefly with the 37 second ‘Flintridge’, sounding like his answer to Kendrick Lamar’s ‘u’, a drunken, distorted voice spouts self-deprecation and disapproval over echoey guitars and subtle synths. While more hopeful sounding, in ‘Papercut’, lyrics of “Can’t tell my Mother I’m gay, the hardest part of my day is wishing I was fucking straight” are still painful. It’s clear throughout that his lack of parental acceptance torments him, MTV1987 even had skits entitled ‘Mom’ and ‘Dad’. Between ‘Yellow’s acoustic desire to “build a sandcastle” and the trap-like auto-tune, electric guitar arpeggio combination of ‘Echo’, American Boyfriend is an unpredictable affair, constantly presenting the listener with new approaches, and succeeding every time.
In an interview earlier this year, Abstract prophesised that “the biggest pop star in the world should be a creative black kid from Texas that doesn’t know how to come out to his family”. Nine months later, American Boyfriend proves that if there’s any justice in this dismal year of 2016, he should be. It’s a textbook example of an artist turning pain, teenage melancholy and feelings of unacceptance into something more positive and empowering, and it’s brilliant.