Legendary underground Swedish vocalist Yung Lean has just dropped his highly anticipated new full length album Starz. The last LP from Lean came back in 2017 with the ambient dreamscape Stranger, which was followed by a 23 minute mixtape Poison Ivy the year after. This brief hiatus from the mysterious rapper was surely for the better, as Starz shows Yung Lean more focused and refined than ever, further developing his signature dreamy aesthetics while mixing in bolder experimental pop elements. The album showcases new, fascinating sides to Lean both lyrically and sonically, though all of his whimsical approaches remain cohesive and reigned in. This makes Starz both an intriguing and delightful project throughout.
Starz kicks off with a dark apocalyptic banger "My Agenda" which features a noisy droning instrumental and some abrasive bars from Yung Lean that entail late night mischief. Next up is "Yayo" a dreamier cut about the cost of fame. The beat here is signature Lean, a hazy and reverberated scene that backs the echoing vocals nicely. Later on, the song "Violence" explores a more daunting angle to the ambient hip-hop sound, utilizing distorted vocals and dark booming synth runs. "Dance in the Dark" is a nice left turn as well, taking a more emo approach with some light guitar tones and introspective lyrics about love and loss.
Immediately after comes "Acid at 7/11" which is arguably the most captivating song on Starz. The instrumental here is deeply enchanting, a lightly ringing trap crossover that has luxurious bells to match the sharp 808 beat. Yung Lean's vocal performance is excellent as well, he rides the beat smoothly with a pretty cadence. Following is the title track featuring indie legend Ariel Pink. This effort is an interesting break from the more rap inspired cuts that precede it, as "Starz" is a slow pace experimental pop ballad. The song is the longest on the entire record, taking it's time to transition the faint atmospheric instrumental to densely layered galaxy of sound.
The proud "Hellraiser" returns to pace, delivering some of Lean's most confident and catchy bars to date. There's also "Butterfly Paralyzed," a deeply pulsing electronic ballad that is easily the most danceable work on the project. Next up is another highlight on the album, the bouncing and infectious "Dogboy." The track's hook is easily one of the catchiest earworms of the year thus far; it flows excellently over the upbeat trap instrumental. It feels like a fever dream played through in fast forward. Later are "Iceheart" and the previously released single "Pikachu," both excellent additions to the grand Yung Lean catalogue. They prove yet again how adept he is at crafting catchy sad boy trap music.
Starz closes beautifully with the deeply humming "Sunset Sunrise" and closing piano croon "Put Me in a Spell." Here the album concludes on slower, introspective notes that allow Lean's poignantly empty voice to really take center stage. "Put Me in a Spell" is especially moving, with raw and honest vocals that talk about love and desperation over sparkling piano chords. The soundscape morphs into an immersive display of angelic synth runs and rich vocal layers. It's a tranquil ending to a cerebral trek of a project from Yung Lean.
Yung Lean's newest album is likely his strongest and most consistent to date. It effectively elaborates on his preestablished dream trap aesthetics while still abandoning a safe compromise. Many years into his massive career, it's clear that the Swedish prodigy still has unique and engaging ideas that he's not afraid to commit to. It's even more clear that he's still got an excellent ear for experimental hip-hop. But what's a startling achievement in and of itself is that Yung Lean's highly stylized sonic dream is still as visceral and believable as ever.