Album Review: Action Bronson – Only For Dolphins

At some point, someone must have told Action Bronson that words have multiple meanings. This isn’t something I know for sure, but you can intuit it from his lyrics. Keeping in theme, then, he must have learned that it is perfectly okay for things to contain multitudes. As he puts it on ‘C12H16N2’, Action Bronson is an “author, singer, dancer, exotic olive oil taster. Dancer”.

Curiously it’s a list that doesn’t include ‘chef;, which is where Bronson’s personal roots are, or ‘Albanian-American’, considering both are huge influences on his personality. For a multihyphenate like Action Bronson, though, in order to understand any one facet you have to understand them all. ‘Only for Dolphins’ is maybe his least accessible release because it is Bronson for diehard Bronson fans.

In the interest of making this read accessibly, though, I’d recommend listening to 2019’s Bronson x Alchemist EP ‘Lamb Over Rice’. It’s a condensed version of everything that makes him himself without needing to wade through the extended Bronson collection of music videos, TV shows, olive oil collaborations – that lyric wasn’t him doing a bit – or cookbooks. It keeps everything in a short burst of Bronson so he doesn’t grate on you, it’s punchy, etcetera- but it also isn’t the topic of this piece.

‘Only for Dolphins’ is a record designed with island living in mind. That’s hinted in the title, for sure, but every beat from ‘C12H16N2’ onwards is breathy and relaxed. This is composition that gives the man room to move within it and doesn’t let him stew. Cooking metaphors!

Keep your eyes peeled for his collection of ad-libs and sonic motifs, which help keep both you and he grounded. “It’s me”. “Bam Bam Baklava”. The sound of dolphins making… dolphin noises? in the background. These are all staples in his extended discography and all serve as a sauce base for each unique Action Bronson record. So what does he add to these sauce bases to make each serving new and different?

One of the highlights is ‘Latin Grammys’. Brass in the background, a light drum loop that doesn’t really intrude. The lyrics see Bronson paint a picture of himself as opulent, successful- as suggested in the title- and that lets him seamlessly transition into Golden Eye. Smokier, brassier, more opulent both in its faux-nouveau James Bond beat and Bronson’s lyrics. Deliberately mispronouncing Chardonnay as you describe spilling it on your expensive rugs isn’t for everyone, but when you’ve got that gravitas you can pull most things off.

The thing about Action Bronson is that even his best can grate. You’ve got confidence to the nth degree and you’ve made it into 35 minutes, with a strong narrative throughline, good features, everything you’d want, but you need a couple of goes for it to sit with you. You need to consciously remind yourself to consume it so it doesn’t just pass you by, which means that even though it’s good it’s never, like, great.

Even having the balls to title a song ‘Marcus Aurelius’, much less pull it off, is indicative of what you can expect of him. “If I had a watch, I’d probably throw that shit in the river. Half a milli just to shiver, I don’t give a fuck” is the kind of laissez-faire approach that’s got him to where he is, and he knows where he is.

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