When Yung Lean dropped the video for “Hoover” way back in November, he set expectations for his second studio album way high. The video was fantastic and the song really slapped. Production-wise it marked a heavy departure for Lean, owing more to the more frenzied sounds not dissimilar to that of say, Arca. And to the album’s credit, in this respect it more than delivers. Compared to Lean’s previous releases there’s more of an emphasis on harsher bass and trap-influenced percussion, making nods to artists like Travis $cott and Future. As usual, though, Lean’s Sadboy crew (Yung Gud and Yung Sherman) do a stellar job of producing the kinds of atmospheric environments that he swims around in so well. They have a knack for finding sounds and synths that audibly “wail” or cry, which is essential to the sadboy sound. There tends to be an emphasis on synths as opposed to samples, but when those samples are employed it’s done well; the guitars in album opener “Immortal” are a good example of this. Looking at the album’s production credits, it appears that Mike Dean (producer for Kanye) did work on “Highway Patrol” as well as “More Stacks”. The beat on “More Stacks” is insane. I’m pretty sure that one of the themes to Metroid Prime for the GameCube is sampled towards the end, and it’s gorgeous. The track also features some beautiful, watery percussion.
“Hoover” is unsurprisingly a standout of the album. I can’t help but feel like I’m hanging on to some huge, spitting machine with its menacing synths and drums. Lyrically it’s one of my favorites from this album as well. “Got a lotta $#it in my bag like Santa” is one of the best lines of the year so far. Lean’s lyrics and delivery are often criticized, but usually that’s missing the point. Regardless of whatever he’s saying, it often comes across with an impressive amount of charisma. Take the hook off of “Highway Patrol”. Lean’s powerful delivery( “I don’t pay attention to these CHIL-DREEN”) and the tasteful use of auto-tune makes for a powerful statement. “AF1s” is another great example of Lean’s delivery coming in on point, with a potent hook and stellar verses. Listen to the way he comes in on his first verse. Goosebumps.
Other times, however, Lean’s vocals come across as questionable. The track “Fire”, sitting squarely in the middle of the album, is the biggest offender, though it reliably provides some chuckles. I realize that expecting impassioned delivery and remarkable wordplay would be missing the entire point of Yung Lean in general, but his monotone singing, relatively annoying melody, and some really awkward lines “My money speedin’ no flat tire//Over on this side it is drier” make this track really difficult to enjoy. The production doesn’t do much to make up for any of these faults. The following track, “Stay Down”, continues the awkward delivery but makes up for it with a fantastic hook and smooth production.
“Warlord” is noticeably almost void of features, a quality that unfortunately doesn’t work well in its favor. Many of the tracks could use the refreshing change of pace that a guest vocalist or verse brings, and as a whole the album tends to drag on because of this. The features that are present are a mixed bag. Lil Flash from Chief Keef’s crew makes an appearance on “Fantasy” and kills it, ramping up the energy level of the track. Bladee, another rapper from Sweden associated with Yung Lean, shows up on both “Highway Patrol” (where he is forgettable) and “Hocus Pocus” (where he adds a lot). Finally, Ecco2k (another Swedish rapper) is featured on “AF1s” and provides an overall decent, but still kind of forgettable bridge considering the rest of the song is fantastic.
One thing is certainly obvious from “Warlord”: Yung Lean is interested in changing his sound. Overall this album features grittier, more powerful production and tighter hooks than his previous work. He’s also ditched a lot of his trademark references to Arizona iced tea, various Nintendo games, etc. When the “Hoover” video was released, I wasn’t just surprised by the sound, I was surprised by the aesthetic. It was a powerful statement, one that really made me wonder what kind of album would follow it. While my expectations for this LP given the video were not completely satisfied, what I had suspected turned out to be true: namely, the days of Yung Lean rapping in front of tessellating Pokemon might be over. But with this latest release, he’s proved that he’s musically still a force to be reckoned with. Maybe we’ll get a Yung Lean/Kanye collaboration, given that Mike Dean worked on this LP and that the supposedly upcoming ‘Ye album being titled “Turbo Grafx 16” almost definitely categorizes it as vaporwave. One can dream.
Songs to Check Out: