Review Summary: where you are and where you want to bea stranger’s patterns
With any breath of fresh air comes a sigh of relief; the acceptance of change helps shed the toxicity of fractured identities // past mistakes. It can also feel foreign and uncomfortable like the dawn of winter bringing a kiss bitingly cold, and yet preternaturally refreshing. On Stranger’s
opening moments you can see Yung Lean’s exhale take the form of a glistening and cleansed fog trail that bubbles within itself, fragmenting its path in the process. While the first verse of opener ‘Muddy Sea’ references pointed images of a past mental breakdown (“she got blood on her lip
”), it’s the latter half of the track that dips into the psyche of a changing man: “ravens guard that house//I just keep them within
”. Although the entirety of the album is concerned with re-defining Lean’s personality and opening up his past demons, the act itself points to a poignant pivot in both Jonatan’s life and musical career. It’s the shedding of the skin that implies a stranger is born, ignoring the obvious flaws in believing in such an idea.
xanax dreams//xanax recollective
I guess it stands to say that Lean has, in a sense, found his sense of self on the contradictorily titled Stranger
. It’s a kind of identity that he’s never really hinted at prior -- Warlord
and Frost God
more concerned with his spiralling down into drug-induced insanity and depression: Eye Contact’s lethargic lamentations, paired with its dysphoric crossdressing dream of a video a kind of embodiment of that haunting past. Stranger, in some ways continues down that path in its first half, Lean erring towards dehumanised detachment, and empty to the point of barren//aimless to the point of disorienting half-bangers; his production team, led by Yung Gud and Sherman, taking that Whitearmor-esque space trap sound and shooting it into the aether. But, somewhere, somehow, this half-drugfucked self-flagellation eventually gives way to something altogether optimistic. ‘Hunting My Own Skin’ shoots for a kind of post-rehab optimism, while ‘Agony’ contrasts with a more realistic (or even, pessimistic) acknowledgement of the difficulties that come with such self-realisation (“I'm alone in a hole in the ground//A Theatre of Dogs is still around
”). The resultant concoction is one altogether bittersweet; tinged with the anguish of struggle yet bright with hope for a better future. Whilst the remonstrant opening of ‘Yellowman’ sheds the skin of his addiction(s) (“I’ll fade to grey//but not today
”), it’s funereal second half, that trudges along with only the vaguest sense of direction, grapples with post-clean up romanticizations (“Visions of reality...Popping downers, no more crowns
”). It perhaps serves as the best embodiment of this new-era; half-stuck between the drugged-out hit-making of old and this embrace of his more (for want of a better term) creative side (and the subsumption of the art-pop sensibilities of his Psychopath Ballads).
am i imaginary
While Yung Lean’s past thrived in the offhand, casual attachment to cloud // sad rap in a grimly reflexive inside joke with himself and his fans, Stranger
faces realities with wide eyes and little smiles. Although the druggy, cloudiness is still lurking across the album’s tracklist, there are obvious window panes of spacious clarity. The beats themselves encompass this newfound sense of breathing room as they often throw themselves in the room freely, always leaving an extended, wavering trail of silence. It’s hard to classify tracks like ‘Red Bottom Sky’ and ‘Yellowman’ as cloud rap seeing that both are obviously based in a dark breed of pop and alt-r&b. While the former is a sidestep away from the radio airwaves, the elements holding it back (Lean’s slightly off-key vocals, namely) are truly the more interesting aspects. It is purposeful messiness, and the latter track acts as the realized closer for the album; sporadic and linearly altering itself until it disintigrates back to where the album began. Lean is less dependent on the bellowing party bass and more reliant on his still slightly groggy voice throughout the record. Within moments of the first half of the album he quite literally sounds like he was just released from that Miami mental hospital; haze-induced and slow to react, bringing both flashes of clarity and confusion.
During his attempts to find himself, in a way, Yung Lean had to first peel back the drug-realities from his own reality. Some of these hallucinations take the form of a scene that reeks of a deathly clean hospital smell, as seen with ‘Metallic Intuition’s’ vision of a loved one (“my grandma said she feel me
“) that is buried within the hook. Yet, as the song takes itself apart, Lean capitalizes on the vulnerability of the beat to speak from the heart. At least, it comes off as entirely more genuine when stripped of the cloudy, distorted reality he has built up within the album’s ambience (moreso within the arch of his entire career). It goes back to this central idea of shedding the skins you consider strangers, and hearing the self-defined musical exploration materialize as this mindset is a reassuring release.
can’t depend on nobody, that’s what i know
Despite the seemingly straightforward design of Stranger’s message, it revels incoherent; repetitively relapsing and detoxing rather than progressing cleanly from dark to light. In a sense, it reflects the arduous process of quitting -- the constant struggle against temptations, and the endless yearning for that fix that is only ever two or three calls away. ‘Silver Arrows’ errs confusing, its hook seemingly accepting of the drugs beckon, and the lifestyle that comes with it (“Silver arrows my sound, fuck them all I might die//I be up on cloud nine, green laces, smoke clouds
”). In this sense it is most apt that it’s as close as Lean comes to rebirthing that Warlord sound: Lean flirting with the disaffected melodicism and half-there rapping that defined that disjointed mess of an album.
In a way it’s disheartening, for it is these moments of addled addiction that Lean sounds most carefree: ‘Drop It / Scooter’ and ‘Silver Arrow’ yielding some of Stranger’s
catchiest hooks and most tangibly formed beats. Contrastingly, the detoxed tracks at times struggle to hold themselves together, ‘Snakeskin / Bullets’ an experience equally disorienting as it is effectual: Lean detached to the point of emotional brokenness, grasping for a kind of release seemingly unreachable. This isn’t to say there aren’t breakthroughs (Hunting My Own Skin reeks of a kind of therapeutic release ultimately inspiring), but as a whole there’s a sense of difficulty//struggle//tension within these thematically more inspiring pieces.
Perhaps this struggle defines the sense of unknowing and Strangerness; Lean’s post-drug persona a person unrecognisable not only to those close, but to himself as well. The struggle, in this sense, seems expected; a kind of pained shedding of skin that has to come with such growth. The beauty lies within Lean’s self-awareness; aware that moving on from such a past will come with difficulty; that acknowledging and accepting this new self will not be as seamless as it may seem.
“Isolation caved in
I adore you, the sound of your skin