In Review: Action Bronson - Only For Dolphins

The Queens-native cult of personality is back, with an album that in his own words is "ANOTHER BRIGHT THREAD WOVEN INTO THE TEXTURE OF THE COSMOS". Undoubtedly at his best when fully leaning into his persona, is there substance beyond Bronson's style?
Posted: 23 September 2020 Words: Alex Orr

New York’s Action Bronson is ubiquitous. He sits atop a cultural empire created in his design, supported by VICE cooking shows, vaporisers, craft beers and acting roles, almost to the point where you can forget he is a solid rapper. Following 2018’s slightly disappointing White Bronco, the Queens-native is back with Only for Dolphins, an album that in his own words is "ANOTHER BRIGHT THREAD WOVEN INTO THE TEXTURE OF THE COSMOS".

The title and ensuing description says it all about Bronson. His cult of personality revolves around his pseudo-stoner, somewhat aloof cadence, but is their substance to style? From the opening shrillness of dolphin shrieks, its axiomatic that Bronson is sticking to what he knows. The first few songs feel like solid but unspectacular entries into the rapper’s growing back catalogue, but once you get into the true meat of the album, you realise a lot of thought has been put into carving a unique identity for each song. So many different corners of the world have their sounds represented here – where most albums critically hailed as ‘global’ focus on one or two non-Western sounds, Bronson goes on a sonic globetrot, bouncing between reggae, Mongolian folk and French romance (amongst many other influences). You can also hear the hallmarks of different eras, with songs like the infomercial-sounding ‘Splash’ and the jazz-tinged ‘Vega’ picking different decades to base themselves around.

None of the songs overstay their welcome, with only two breaking the three-and-a-half-minute mark. It’s a smart move – the sheer variety of sounds presented here isn’t going to please anyone, the brisk pace the album competently chugs along at avoids audience alienation. Think of it like a global smorgasbord of small appetisers, rather than a world buffet of middling delicacies. The gaggle of producers attached to the record give each song a unique atmosphere, all anchored by Action Bronson’s typical Ghostface Killa-esque rapping and raspy voice.

Bronson’s undoubtedly at his best when he fully leans into his persona. ‘Latin Grammys’ is unapologetic yet self-deprecating and full of swagger as he proclaims ‘Suplex City Bitch’ over a rousing trumpets and funk-laden bass. ‘Marcus Aurelius’ is a surprisingly introspective track that wanders into territory as-of-yet unmarked on Only for Dolphins. It’s a welcome change of pace revolving around minimalist piano and drums that wouldn’t sound out of place in a New York dive bar.

Only for Dolphins is, for better or worse, your quintessential Action Bronson record. It has the same swagger and style as he’s always had, but with a more global focus textually than before. How much you enjoy it will depend entirely on how much you like Action Bronson as a personality as much as a rapper, but there’s no denying it’s an interesting listen regardless of which side of the fence you fall on.

Only For Dolphins is out on Friday (25th September) via Loma Vista Recordings.

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