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Yung Lean’s Poison Ivy isn’t the magnum opus that “Stranger” was

A 23 minute mixed bag of an EP with euphoric highs and disappointing lows

Claude Brun, Video Editor
Originally published November 23, 2018


Last year’s “Stranger” proved that Swedish rapper Jonatan Leandoer—aka Yung Lean—is no longer the carefree 17 year old that dropped “Ginseng Strip 2002” back in 2013. His sound has been through its ups and downs over the years but more since “Stranger” has settled into a more somber state than ever. “Red Bottom Sky” and “Agony” stood out as having some of Lean’s most beautiful production alongside some of his most emotional lyrics.

“When I’m afraid I lose my mind/it’s fine it happens all the time/Isolation caved in/I adored you, the sound of your skin,” he sings on “Agony,” imbuing an amount of sorrow in his voice that you would never expect from his generally monotone delivery.

“Stranger” brought a poignancy in many of its lyrics that nobody would’ve expected from Lean as well as a noticeable improvement to the quality and intricacy of the production, which in moments had so much depth and texture that it felt like you could almost reach out and feel the sounds.

Lean’s flirtation with the mainstream may be what sparked his recent lyrical and sonic maturation. From his hook on Frank Ocean’s seminal 2016 album “Blonde” to his A$AP Ferg feature on his 2016 album “Crystal City.” This seems to go against the common trend of rappers selling out or losing much of their substance as they grow in popularity, so it’s good to see that Yung Lean has gone the opposite direction.

Disappointingly, “Stranger” may have been where that maturation culminated, as “Poison Ivy” does little to progress Lean’s sound in any noticeable way. While tracks like “french hotel” and lead single “happy feet” stand out as among the more enjoyable in his discography, it sounds largely like he is retracing his steps on this project.

Now, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing; it will please most that enjoyed “Stranger” but likely won’t draw in any new fans. Still, it’s more of the Yung Lean many have known and loved for the past five years with the added bonus of the artistic progression that came with his last album. It’s just a little disappointing considering how much he grew between his last two projects, and not what I was hoping for when I saw there was a new Yung Lean project.

Off the bat, “happy feet” shows impressive sonic progression, starting off slow and aetherial and progressing towards a towering climax where it is then followed by “friday the 13th,” which is filled with vicious rattling high hats and Lean’s best flow on the project. Rounding out this excellent opening trifecta is “french hotel,” a track that caught me off guard with its glitchy, cyberpunk reminiscent production—it sounds like a cocaine-fueled dance party in futuristic neo-Paris, and fittingly so, as this is one of Lean’s most danceable tracks. It’s the track that I most consistently go back to and redeems the album’s unoriginality in many ways, as it’s hard to pinpoint a moment where Lean has sounded like this in any of his past projects.

However, the album hits a lull at “silicon wings” where Lean uses his most monotone inflection and rarely varies his flow. When paired with a relatively unoriginal beat that you wouldn’t sound out of place on Soundcloud, this track becomes a bit of a snoozer. “ropeman” regains some of the momentum of the first three tracks but fails to even approach the euphoric highs of “paris hotel.” The next track, “trashy” serves its purpose as a classic Yung Lean ballad but comes nowhere near the sheer beauty of similarly slow tracks on “Stranger” such as the aforementioned “Red Bottom Sky” and “Agony.” The ghostly background vocals that pop into the mix are a very nice addition though. When followed by the similarly aetherial “sauron,” however, this album hits yet another lull—these two low-energy tracks placed side by side are likely to make you lose interest, despite sounding relatively nice on their own.

The closer “bender++girlfriend” is slow like the previous two tracks, but starts off with a much more grand, while still slow and aetherial, first half that transitions into a beautifully calm second half which sounds like Lean laying in bed with his girlfriend after a bender of a night—what a fitting title (even if I couldn’t tell you what the “++” means). The distorted vocals that the track leaves off on are an excellent way to end the album and left me with a nice sense of completion, even after a mere 23 minute project.

The biggest issue with “Poison Ivy,” however, is not Lean’s lack of artistic progression on the project but rather the fact that it feels much longer than 23 minutes. This is largely due to a lack of broad sonic and lyrical variation and the poor pacing in the second half. Still, there are gems within the eight song tracklist that make it worth a listen, most notably “french hotel” and “bender++girlfriend,” but these highs are few and far between and left me feeling that Lean had only given me a small taste of what he is capable of. Right now we can only hope that Lean’s next full length project (which “Poison Ivy is not) will satisfy in the way “Stranger” did last year.

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Yung Lean’s Poison Ivy isn’t the magnum opus that “Stranger” was