I was way way behind on this one, sorry. It came out way back in... geez, February. I just haven't been in the mood, I guess. The specific mood that best facilitates Yung Lean is a strange one. It's sadness, sure, like, S A D B O Y S, that's pretty clear, but it's not the same sadness that would drive you to listen to Xiu Xiu or Nick Drake or something. It's a sadness that doesn't quite honor itself maybe, a sadness more willing to make memes out of its own sadness, to take some perverse delight and even satisfaction in it. It paradoxically makes the actual sadness much more fundamental, as it must be omnipresent and substantial to make the memes sensible, but also provides a feeling of greater perspective and emotional range that could provide an "out" from the sadness.
It's pretty complex, this Leanworld. It's little wonder that, at the height of his popularity, the Yung Lean aesthetic was influenced by and invading loads of other genres, artistic movements... esports?? I tried to break it down in my Unknown Memory review. But it's been almost three years since he first established this territory with Unknown Death 2002. Three years isn't very long in the career of an artist, but it's a very long time for a meme, and in that time, the landscape for these sorts of things has changed considerably. Arteezy plays for Secret and (according to my friend who watches his stream) trends more towards the Kanye/Drake paradigm. Buzzfeed finally finished off the hospitalized body of vaporwave. The idea of "outsider rap" has gone as far as Lil Yachty. Alt lit is dead. Ironic consumerist fetishization has turned inside-out. It seems like people who were having fun with being sad are getting tired.
And where does Yung Lean fit into this new codeine/sprite gyre? My feeling is that he doesn't really have to. This is his first album that he didn't really need to make. Unknown Death 2002 set up the addictive question of "is this actually good or just novel?", which was answered for each person with the divisive (but overall pretty great imo) Unknown Memory. He's clearly established himself as a "real artist" beyond the perfect storm of memes and aesthetics that brought him to the world. He has nothing to prove.
This isn't a negative thing, though. In this superfluous ambition, in this distance from trends, there is freedom. Here's an example from another Swede with a niche audience and a similar timeline of popularity: why is Enopp running Majora's Mask 100%? We can only conclude that it is fun and meaningful to him. So I'm excited. This intro is going to get very long if we don't get going here. Why am I talking about speedruns?
Yung Lean - Warlord
Awww yeah here we go, for some reason I thought I was about to hear the Metro Boomin tag LOL. Yung Lean sounds a bit older, a bit more grizzled maybe. Gargamel, Swisher Sweets, this is the world I have missed. "And I'm feeling so immortal", "Feeling like a warlord", the power of his self-image prevails. "Cadillacs like melted cheese" sounds like a Riff Raff line. "Counting money like it's sheep" is actually a strangely powerful line. And now we get a little sung breakdown here, I love the beat... really spacey and distant. Oh man the double vocal line here at the end, the lower one almost sub-aural, that's a really nice trick. Very nice start. S+
2. Highway Patrol
This again seems to fit some sort of war-esque vibe, like... title-wise. Late night driving music, sounds vaguely like the Hotline Miami soundtrack. Okay I really fuck with this flow, over these very slightly trappy drums it's super nice. This sort of surging energy, hell yeah. "I don't pay attention to these children" seems funny given that he blew up at like age 8 or whatever lolol. The breakdown around 1:30 is nice and dreamy... and then the total silence... ahhh yeah. "Let the stars decide if I'm gonna live or die" damn. These images of sadboy idleness are so powerful. That mixture of dreaminess and sadness, it's big R Romantic LOL. LOUIS GUCCI POLO I ROCK ALL THAT SHIT EVERYDAY, hell yeah, the BONUS VERSE. This is pretty hype, I'm feeling this. *
This is nice anticipation at the start... very mysterious sorta... and yet still a beat you feel like someone's gonna tear tf up. LEANDOER. "I lost all my urges" is wew. "Life is like a drive thru, I guess that I could die soon", and oh man man there's a lot of good lines here. Donald Duck lungs hahaha. The preciseness of the energy on the beat YO the vocal effects at 1:30 are cool. I guess this is Lil Flash now, he's going pretty in. Hell yeah man the relentless of both of their verses, I love the structure of songs like this. Shrimp and lobster boys, hell yeah. And then an outro again on that simple sound, but now amplified, intense... cool. *
Hmm interesting. Afghanistan is a long way from Kyoto lol. Shoutouts to M.I.A.?? Kush from Afghana-staaaaaaaan, i see i see. This beat is real nice sheesh, it feels both overwhelming and spaceious... sinking right into it. "I don't want that shorty, you should go and merry her" lol. Oh man I forgot just how intense he can get when he's on one of these endless verses, and the way it goes so smoothly back into the hook is great too, the energy never diminishes LOL SOMEONE JUST DID THE BIRDMAN THING HAHAHA why?? why? I'm pretty sure they did LOL yeah they did hahaha well that's fun to do I'm sure. Okay this one was super solid. I think it was a single, that makes sense. **
OOH rain sounds, another musical fetish right up there with CRICKETS HELL YEAH CRICKETS let's go, and BIRD NOISES EVEN? oh man these super metallic drums what the, and wow his vocals are mixed super close on this one. "Wake up with some liquor in me" damn man, the aggressiveness. "Gotta lot of shit in my bag like Santa" LOL. His sense of humour hasn't dulled at all, just so... unexpected lol. And the way he switches up to this super languid flow around 1:30, that's pretty nuts. "Wake up and the world is empty"? "Wake up take a trip to Paris", crazy. Okay sick. I like the noisiness of the outro. *
This is strange. hmm. That little loop. Hmmm. Now his vocals are mixed way back haha. I like their willingness to experiment on all fronts. Oh that bass is super nice. "Bitch I'm smoking spirit flowers", idk what these are. "My money speeding no flat tire" hahaha. His willingness to commit to this sort of flow, something this unconventional, is one of his strengths, he can go all the way with it. "FUCK SCHOOL IT MADE ME SICK, ALL MY HATERS THEY MADE ME RICH" oh yeah hell yeah. And now because he went so hard on that other flow, this more traditional one feels fresh too. Oh man and those drums jesus, I love that sort of staggered feeling!! *
7. Stay Down
oooh this is sorta creepy, this distortion... oh man and in with some severe autotune blend, that's a good mixture. "I'm rolling blowing away, the days look the same", damn damn. And the beat too, it's one of the more traditional ones, feels like a BANGER FOR SURE. These little slices of the lifestyle, it's this weird mix of comfy and depressing lol. well, it isn't even that weird anymore i guess hahaha. This was good, nice solid track... I feel this hook, the "mantra-esque" sort of sequence to it, affirmations or whatever. S
8. Eye Contact
Huh interesting... this warbly horn line, this strange sample... yet again this feels like nothing else... These substantial intros are nice, really lets you situate yourself in a place. SKIRT SKIRT, fuck what you HEARD HEARD hahaha, I'm so high I'm flying like a BIRD BIRD. This is so good, what a fun idea. "I am surfing on the Earth, I'm a surfer" hahaha. "They think I'm absurd-surd", and the way he pushes the meter around while still retaining this double-ender, I love it. "I'm in that forest and my life is like a fairy tale" shoutouts to Lakutis??? "I'm a lion in this shit, everyone else is a snail" hahaha. "Shoutouts to my enemies, I wish you well!" what a nice attitude. Gotta love your haters I guess. There's nothing else you can really do. And the outro too, mirroring the nice intro, good good. Is the sample saying "super strong"? idk. *
9. More Stacks
Ooh, very sinister. OH I liked that. That was nice. OH MAN I really like the heaviness of all this. "I got pills look like rainbows in my tour bus", what a strangely cute image. Bags under my eyes :( Sheesh though man those drops, Yoshi City hell yeah, a hundred million roses on me when I die. This sort of breathing energy this track has, so cool... exploding in and out... Oh WOAH at 1:40, when we get this really crisp almost chiptuney sound... OH MAN OKAY. they're going all out with this one. this is the real one. good lord. those drums holy moly. this is some genius production. And the number of vocal layers increasing on each round of the hook oh man, the intensity!! Okay wow. ***
What are AF1s? I think they might be shoes but I am ignorant. Like Jordans maybe. Who is Ecco2k? Reminds me of Eccojams. Alright this is nice, nice bouncing beat, I think I was right and they're shoes I'm a genius. "I'm looking like winter, temperature like the summer" hahaha that's sick. "I'll be in the night, creeping round like the phantom", cool. His use of the offbeat "hey"/clap on this album's production in general is great. This is Ecco2k I guess, he seems alright. "Triple red sprite, that's my blood type" hahaha. The vocal effect at 2:30 is cool, and the way the beat seems a bit more like "tricky" with it is cool. The drop at 2:50 was really cool too, that sort of restraint/anticipation is good, high level. Okay nice. Solid, I love this outro. *
11. Hocus Pocus
Hmmm again, very sonically bizarre elements to start a song with... presented in isolation, demanding complete examination. This one is pretty spooky... the bass... "I'm flying in the lotus", is this a car or the Buddhist image (seen in Nichijou)? "It takes control of me", and you feel it. "I figured I was dead, but I'm living free" as a connected idea is interesting. "Six Airforce on my feet like a centipede" lol yes how do you wear more than one pair of AFs at once?? oh man at 2 minutes, Bladee going in on this super falsettoesque flow. "Two pills, running round in the Matrix", like both red and blue?? idgi lol, but I think I feel it. The distance of the hook here is really cool, and these loud close synth lines, hell yeah. "Is my life over?" "They control us!", this sort of frenzied paranoia is pretty compelling. *
12. Shawty U Know What It Do
lmfao this title is so much different than the rest, i love it. Hahhaa and the complete title drop at the beginning. "I'm finna take them to the moon" yeeeeee go do it. Again this sort of unconventional flow is tackled with full sincerity, it's addictive, hints at such addictive possibilities. "I fly up like a balloon" hahaha. Fun. S
13. Miami Ultras
Final track, longest track, here we go. Oooh, the anticipation, the restraint... is this one gonna be PLUS ULTRA? Oooooooooooh YEAH oh man his voice is so abrasive and huge here. "I don't give a motherfuck, watching Star Wars smoking pot" hahahahaha, such a complete picture. "I keep going like I'm out", is he just gonna go in for the duration of this? At 1:50 we get a reprise... a retreat back to the intro's sensibility... but here comes OH i got tricked, now we're in that smooth dreamy mode "I wish we lived on another Earth" :( Very cool, this sort of drifting-past energy... And then oh man oh man, back into the rough flow, round two of the intro verse, I love that structure, that's what I was praising Groovy Tony for yesterday. Very cool. **
Feeling like a Warlord
Alright, that was pretty solid. It seemed like he wanted to have a good time rapping over some good-ass beats and he sure did. Now that these sort of production trends aren't as in "vogue", seeing them done so well again is really refreshing and nostalgic. He didn't take many big risks on this album, but he didn't need to... like I said, he doesn't need to prove the legitimacy of his talent or style, he's established himself as a "rapper" going forward, he can do whatever he wants.
I don't have much else to say, but there's one thing that struck me when I heard this that's on this subject of "doing whatever he wants"... when he debuted, part of the novelty/silliness was that he was rapping about hard drugs and high fashion while it was extremely evident that it was a lifestyle impossible to him. But now he's still rapping about those things, as a free, probably fairly wealthy, adult, who can and possibly does do/have those things? Has it changed the way he presented these subjects? In subtle ways, maybe. It's pretty interesting.