By Jon Fuchs, Music Director
Key Tracks: “Red Bottom Sky”, “Iceman”, “Agony”
Since his rise to fame in 2013, Yung Lean has remained a very divisive figure in the world of hip-hop. With quite a few hit-or-miss tapes under his belt, the 21-year-old Swedish rapper has become an iconic name in the cloud rap subgenre, and has created himself a massive cult fanbase within it. But with his image starting to feel worn out (especially after his last record, Warlord), Yung Lean was in desperate need of a change in image and musical style. Stranger, Yung Lean’s third studio record, is the change he’s been needing, as the record feels more mature and serious than previous hits like “Hurt” and “Ginseng Strip 2002”.
Like usual, Stranger sees Yung Lean working with familiar producers Gud and Yung Sherman, but this time, the production is cleaned up to improve their spacey production. Beats on tracks like “Muddy Sea”, “Skimask” and “Iceman” are easily some of the best production from any of the Sad Boys. They’re just as atmospheric and synthetic as their previous beats, but feel a lot more polished and rid of a lot of the elements that made Yung Lean annoying.
“Red Bottom Sky”, one of the best tracks on the record, is a great example of the team’s change of style, as the beat’s constantly minimalistic fashion manages to remain grand and epic throughout its five-minute runtime. Yung Lean’s delicate singing voice matches perfectly with the dark, beachy mood, showcasing a more sensitive side of the rapper many never get to see. This also happens in tracks like “Metallic Intuition” and “Push / Lost Weekend“, which both fill the album with sweet, autotuned soundscapes only he can create.
“Agony” is easily Yung Lean’s best song since “Ginseng Strip 2002”. It’s a devastating
piano ballad all about isolating yourself, taking pills and the horrors of living with mental illnesses. The pain in his voice all over the song is, unfortunately, extremely relatable, and lyrics like “Isolation caved in / I adore you, the sound of your skin” describe depression in ways few tracks this year have been able to do.
Despite some genius tracks on the project, Stranger definitely has some flaws. There are quite a few tracks throughout the middle of the album that lose focus on the record’s more serious topics. Tracks like “Push / Lost Weekend” and “Drop It / Scooter” are listenable, but the lack of interesting lyrics make them stand out in a bad way. They’re easily the most braggadocios tracks of the record, bringing back the obnoxious elements of Yung Lean’s past work and making the overall flow of the record a little choppy.
Despite some small takebacks, Stranger shows the ambition Yung Lean is willing to take on a lot of his songs. By changing up the flow of the record, Yung Lean has been able to prove to his audience that he’s not just a one trick pony: he’s a capable artist with plenty of talent up his sleeves.