Yung Lean’s unique brand of euro-trap has been quietly influential ever since he burst onto the scene via 2013’s solid Unknown Death 2002, with artists such as Lil Peep borrowing heavily from the Swedish rapper’s melancholic stoner rap anthems.
When Leap raps, it’s like hearing a charged up teenager emptying everything inside their head after smoking weed and listening to Future for the first time. He sounds, quite frankly, ridiculous — simplistic bars such as “I am gonna peel banana skins while listening to R. Kelly’s greatest hits” and “Poppin pills like zits, fuck fat hoes like Adele!” from atmospheric banger "Ginseng Strip2002" are about as complex as he gets lyrically. But despite these obvious technical limitations, there’s still something endearing about him.
For starters, his layered beats, which mix the booming 808s and rolling hi-hats you might associate with trap with waves of minimalist electronic music straight from an industrial rave are easy to sink into. Hearing this Swedish kid shout out "Makaveli" can be a lot of fun, with Lean unabashedly goofy as he delivers Migos-esque ad-libs in a thick Scandinavian accent, wearing his melting pot of influences with real pride, no matter how ridiculous he may sound doing so.
Sadly, the self-awareness that once made Lean so endearing appears to have washed away with his latest release Nectar, an overly-serious, guitar-driven pop album that sounds crap from start to finish. Released under his experimental alias jonatan leandoer127, Nectar sees Lean’s monotone falsetto ride on top of acoustic tracks so basic they make Ed Sheeran sound like Pink Floyd. It's like the by-product of a teenager who believes writing woke poetry is a good way to pick up girls (FYI: it isn’t). It's SoundCloud rap mixed with Nick Drake, and yes, that’s every bit as awful as it sounds.
Right from opening track “Razor Light,” you’re left with a sense that Lean’s voice isn’t strong enough to carry these acoustic melodies as he struggles song after song. It doesn’t help that so many of these ideas are half-baked, with “Moth” a weak imitation of Radiohead at their gentlest and “Tangerine Warrior” a slice of mumble folk that’s pure torture to sit through. Honestly, the latter is so bad that even playing ten seconds on a speaker could clear a room.
Lean appears to have decided to make his lyrics more political on Nectar, but his perspective here is alarmingly basic, with lyrics that read like bad student protest poetry. It’s like he’s forgotten how to have fun. On “Off With Their Head,” Lean pines for a better time before trains, where people just walked around – far out, dude! Things hit their lowest ebb, however, with “My Guardian,” a love song devoid of personality where the limitations of Lean’s vocals are gravely exposed. When he croons, “Like Nosferatu, you take my love” your skin will start to crawl.
The only time this experiment really threatens to make any sense is “Porcelain Windows,” a reflective acoustic track that’s fueled by a much more engaging spoken word monologue touching on “Shattered dreams and innocent tomorrows that never came.” Yet you could argue this song is simply the best of a bad bunch and not something many are likely to return to. Sure, Lean deserves some credit for experimenting and trying something fresh, but Nectar is proof that just because an artist has the freedom to experiment doesn’t mean they necessarily should. Lean lacks the playful trolling or self-awareness of more clever internet rappers such as Lil B, who might have somehow managed to pull this one off.
On “Rivers Over Wall Street” – a real title – Lean murmurs indulgent lyrics in a bored, monotone warble. He asks the listener, “I wonder if it’s all worthwhile?” You can probably guess where I stand on that one; I can't help but wonder whether Nectar was released as a joke.