Yung Lean—aka Yung Leandoer, aka Jonathan Leandoer Hastad—the YouTuber is back.
For those who don’t know, Jonathan Leandoer is a musical visionary from Sweden who became popular in 2013 with his polarizing rap mixtape, “Unknown Death 2002.” The mixtape canonized the “sad rap” sound that many mainstream rap artists are adopting today and set the stage for Yung Lean’s rise as a rap underdog—an outsider who would eventually hang with rap heavyweights like Travis $cott, Mike Dean, and Riff Raff.
Yung Lean’s second full-length EP, “Warlord,” came out earlier this year. The record received positive reception from dedicated “Sadboys” (the name for Yung Lean’s rap and producer collective), but didn’t create the waves that “Unknown Death 2002” did.
Although the record featured a more industrial and modern production style than Yung Lean’s earlier output, many felt that the record showed Yung Lean stagnating as an artist and falling back on a more mainstream rap paradigm.
Yung Lean’s low key new YouTube channel—simply titled “Jonathan Leandoer,” after his birth name—should dispel any notions that Yung Lean’s creative half-life has passed its peak.
For the past five months or so, he has been releasing songs on this channel under the radar of mainstream music journalists. In these songs, Leandoer veers off into a musical direction that’s much more influenced by punk rock than rap. Yet he is challenging these musical conventions with the same boldness that made his “Unknown Death 2002” mixtape so enchanting.
The first song uploaded to the channel, titled “On the Road,” puts Yung Lean’s brand of sad in a new context. Leandoer sings without his usual autotune to a backing track that sounds like something that would play at 3 a.m. at the closing hour of a Karaoke bar on a Thursday. Lenoder’s vocals sound as much like karaoke as the backing track itself. It’s not so much that Leandoer’s singing is off-pitch—he does a pretty admirable job of keeping pitch actually. Rather, it’s the desperation, laziness, and despair in his voice that makes the music so jarring.
Tracks like “farawaywithyou” and “Never Again” are characterized by Leandoer’s desperate vocals, these times over instrumental tracks which are remarkably barebones and haunting. “farawaywithyou” features only a piano track under Lean’s vocals, and evokes the feeling of a lonely graveyard monster wailing into the night sky. The most exceptional track on the Jonathan Leandoer channel is, by far, the cathartic and perplexing “Primal Fear.” Yung Lean screams pain on the chorus, and the backing track has a curious marching, Civil War–era feel, with guitar power chords that come into the mix and lower the master volume drastically, producing a strangely profound feeling.
Lendoer’s new music has a classic punk rock spirit, but its bare-bones, DIY vibes give it a distinct feeling of newness and originality. Some of these tracks might not even feel like legitimate “music” on first listen—just hear the way Lean’s screaming on “Primal Fear” overpowers the backing track and makes it almost indiscernible. Still, there’s a feeling of roughness to these songs that seem to be deliberately referencing a sound that has been tagged as “unmastered” or “demo material” for this era, and it works in Leandoer’s favor.
For fans of punk music, sad indie rock bands (like American Football), emo vibes, and Yung Lean’s earlier output, Jonathan Leandoer’s new music is certainly worth a listen. Just search Jonathan Leandoer on YouTube and let your post-election feelings dangle unkempt like a bed of thorns in the brush of a graveyard.