There comes a time when addressing another music critic’s writing is almost essential to structuring one’s own review of an album, and I honestly see no way of commenting on the phenomenon that is Lil Peep without engaging with the artist’s reputation amongst certain sections of the music journalist community. Born Gustav Åhr, Lil Peep may seem like a drop in the ocean of Internet rappers on the surface, but something about him has clearly captured the imaginations of many music writers. Gaining traction by posting his music on SoundCloud and YouTube, as so many hip hop acts do nowadays, Åhr has been commended by publications such as Pitchfork and The New York Times as a pioneer of “emo-trap”, with the MC hand-picking hazy, lo-fi hip hop production, over which he delivers a style of overly-emotional sung vocals and rapping that shares a lot in common with emo music. Although not the first ever artist to fuse elements from both hip hop and emo, with the rapper unequivocally taking cues from the crunkcore stylings popularised by the likes of Brokencyde, 3OH!3 and Blood On The Dance Floor around the late 2000s and early 2010s, it’s presumably Lil Peep’s roots in cloud rap and trap that have led a significant amount of critics to put him on his pedestal. Admittedly, as a concept, blending emo and cloud rap makes a lot of sense, at least from a marketing perspective, given that it fills quite a clear gap in the music market. Undoubtedly, DIY, lo-fi, Internet-based hip hop appeals to a very similar core audience to emo, that being withdrawn, dejected, largely male youths, most likely of a white, middle-class background. To some people, I’m sure this blanket characterisation will seem unfair and I’m willing to accept that there are likely substantial discrepancies, but a fairly basic knowledge of Internet music culture will almost certainly show this to be the case. So, in comes Lil Peep, crooning like the frontman of a blink-182 cover band over top spacious, ethereal, trap-tinged beats à la Yung Lean or any other SoundCloud rapper to embrace the ‘sad boy’ label, and unsurprisingly, the artist instantly has a demographic that is deeply invested in his music and, soon enough, instigate his meteoric rise to prominence. With this chain of events playing out exactly as anyone could have anticipated, the key point of interest in Lil Peep’s popularity from a journalistic perspective arises from his warm reception amongst many music critics. Referring back to the brief lifespan of crunkcore, the genre and the vast majority of its most prominent acts were universally panned by critics for the most part, so to have Lil Peep referred to as “the future of emo” by Steven J. Horowitz of Pitchfork and the “Kurt Cobain” of the underground hip hop scene by Jon Caramanica of The New York Times is quite the development. With regards to the now infamous statement that Lil Peep is “the future of emo”, this is an idea that I’m perfectly willing to concede may just end up being the case. With trap currently being more pervasive than ever before, and potentially than it ever will be, the prospect of a genre of music like emo being permeated by a definitive trap influence for a short burst of relevancy is perfectly probable. It’s the claims that Lil Peep is at all comparable to the likes of Kurt Cobain, however, that completely overlook the intrinsic vapidity of his music.
First things first, I’m getting ahead of myself, as I haven’t even introduced this new project from Lip Peep yet. Following a flurry of viral singles, EPs and mixtapes, Åhr finally unveiled his debut full-length album, Come Over When You’re Sober. Considering that the record was originally set to be released on the 11th of August, as opposed to its actual release date of the 15th, and given that the project was not initially announced as being split into separate parts, it would seem that the slightly repurposed Come Over When You’re Sober (Part One) was potentially rushed out to capitalise on the hype garnered in the light of much of Lil Peep’s coverage amongst music publications. In fact, with the end product arriving with only seven tracks, clocking in at under 24 minutes, yet still bearing the title of a studio album, rather than an EP or mixtape, this seems to almost certainly be the case. One need to only look at Desiigner’s New English from last year to recognise that quickly forcing out a full-length project as a means of striking whilst the iron of exposure and relevancy is hot comes not without its risks and, indeed, Lil Peep’s debut album suffers from many of the issues that one may have to come to expect from such a hurried marketing job. Then again, it’s not as if the glaring flaws of Come Over When You’re Sober (Part One) were not plentiful on much of Åhr’s output up until this point, with the record, instead, rounding all of these shortcomings up into a rather concise and easily digestible bundle. It’s at this point wherein addressing the critical reception to Come Over When You’re Sober (Part One) becomes a rather useful way of structuring this review because, of the many bold claims made by the likes of Pitchfork and The New York Times, I can honestly say that I’ve had the exact opposite experience with Lil Peep’s music.
Firstly, I should make a disclaimer that the entire premise of “emo-trap” is by no means something that I think could never work, rather I think that, with the right artists leading such a stylistic metamorphosis, these two genres could likely play off one another relatively effectively. When it comes to Lil Peep, however, his attempts at reconciling the stylistic sensibilities of both emo and trap are so superficial that it works to its own detriment, with the two styles clashing instead of complementing one another as they undoubtedly could. Much of Come Over When You’re Sober (Part One) reads as if someone decided to sing blink-182’s I Miss You over the instrumental to Afghanistan by Yung Lean, with Lil Peep’s lifeless, monotone moaning being as awkward a fit over these beats as this sounds. Indeed, if you were to isolate Åhr’s vocals from the instrumentals featured across the tracklisting, neither of these two elements would stand as anything at all unique in their own right, rather they play to the exact trappings associated with emo and trap respectively. The issue arises, therefore, from the fact that there is no semblance of nuance in how these two separate worlds are brought together, rather they seem to have been haphazardly smashed into one another with the hope that something tangible would emerge from the mess. Instead, however, the end product is songs such as the opening track, Benz Truck (гелик), wherein Åhr’s repetitive, lackadaisical mumbling and the beat’s rudimentary rattling hi-hats and 808 kick drums swamp any semblance of emo influence that the cut tried to capture with its languid guitar line that may as well be the rhythm guitar track to a Linkin Park demo. If anything, with Benz Truck (гелик) leaning so close to trap and lacking any substantial influence from emo, the extent to which the electric guitar and bass take the backseat in the mix would be perfectly understandable if there was something else interesting going on in the production, but the song follows such a textbook blueprint of a moody trap track, with Lil Peep being painfully uncharismatic on the mic, that it can’t even be given credited in this regard. Of the more emo-orientated cuts, such as Awful Things, Åhr recycles vocal melodies that could be found on any pop punk record from the early 2000s and delivers them with such an overtly feigned veneer of angst that he sacrifices sounding tuneful as a result, especially during the borderline shouted sections. Plus, it’s not even as if his choice to deliver the hook with as audibly despondent an inflection as possible works to the benefit that he likely intended it to, as his tone sounds so obviously insincere that the listener would have to seriously suspend their disbelief in order to allow themselves any sort of emotional investment in his performance. What’s more, it should almost go without saying just how awkwardly the trap percussion works itself into Awful Things, and it seems as if Lil Peep and his team are aware of this, given the numerous passages wherein the beat cuts out to allow the perfunctory guitar line to accompany the rapper’s singing on its own. With the MC slurring his words so much across songs like U Said that he falls completely off beat during the refrain, Åhr’s attempts to attain some sort of wretched, heartrending cadence to his voice simply works to the disadvantage of his technical abilities as a vocalist, whilst also being so plainly fabricated that it warrants no investment from the listener. It must be said, however, that if there is one saving grace of this record, it surely comes in the form of the production. Whilst much of the album follows the tropes of surreal, airy, lo-fi hip hop to the letter, there is nevertheless the odd highlight here and there, typically resulting from the grainy guitar lines being blended into the mix relatively effectively at times. The bright, meandering guitar licks and whiffs of bouncy bass melody of Better Off (Dying) are shaded rather well amidst the typical trap percussion, to the point where it’s a shame that Lil Peep’s Tom DeLonge-like drawls are placed so far to the front of the mix. Unfortunately, however, there are then tracks such as the second single from the record, The Brightside, which convey little care when it comes to texturing the emo guitar lines and roaring trap beat with any sort of gradation, rather they are piled on top of one another to the point of creating some rather ugly layers of blaring clutter at times.
Ultimately, if one is looking for substance to the instrumental side of Come Over When You’re Sober (Part One), the record promises little more than what is offered by the majority of rappers on the SoundCloud platform, but the real lack of substance comes in the form of Åhr’s lyrics, which is also wherein drawing comparisons between him and someone such as Kurt Cobain is almost laughable. Despite Lil Peep having claimed that his sentimental whining about very real issues, such as depression, suicide and drug use, is somewhat of a fabrication — comparing music to professional wrestling and saying that “everyone has to be a character” — scouring the lyrical content of Come Over When You’re Sober (Part One) will reveal not an ounce of self-awareness or understanding of consequence amidst the meaningless, adolescent melodrama that disguises the MC’s glamorisation of serious mental health problems. Whereas Cobain’s commentary on mental health and broader societal issues were cushioned in reason, genuine emotions and sardonic witticisms, making for plenty of instances in which the singer was able to strike a sense of realism, poignancy and comedy all at the same time, someone like Lil Peep simply lacks the substance or analytical capabilities to achieve anything even close to this, rather his woe-is-me prattles struggle to ever break past the point of teenage histrionics. To be honest, the insubstantial nature of the majority of Lil Peep’s lyrics across the course of Come Over When You’re Sober (Part One) makes pinpointing examples of just how vapid and woefully unsubtle his juvenile ramblings can be rather difficult, which is only exacerbated by the fact that songs such as Save That Shit and Awful Things lack any discernible rhyme scheme for the most part, whilst The Brightside and Problems witness Åhr largely resort to rhyming words with themselves. Even still, it’s hard to understand how anyone could sympathise with the artist’s lonely cries on a track like Save That Shit when he brushes off the fact that he played with the feelings of the girl for whom he is pining without exhibiting even a hint of genuine remorse or understanding of the repercussions of his actions. On the other hand, there are cuts in the tracklisting such as Awful Things and Problems that are so non-specific and unfocussed that it seems certain that they were written with the intent of having as many adolescent boys project themselves onto the paper-thin portrayals of emotion as possible, without having to present them with any even vaguely challenging concepts. Throughout all of this, the guise of depression and mental health problems seems to be worn as a badge of honour that seeks to add some sort of emotional weight to Lil Peep’s woebegone palaver, with there being far too little depth to this façade to justify any investment from the audience.
With the prospect of Lil Peep being the future of emo being very real, one can only hope that other artists to rise to prominence off the back of his success will have a much better understanding of how to reconcile the genre with contemporary trap sensibilities, rather than hopelessly mashing the two styles together and hoping that the end product would amass in some more-or-less presentable form. The obtrusive faults evident across Come Over When You’re Sober (Part One) are unmissable, with the album consistently lacking in both substance and subtlety on every level. When the production does attempt something slightly atypical for your average, cloudy, lo-fi hip hop, it typically sees influences from trap and emo come together in a horribly stilted fashion, lacking any degree of refinement or shading. Even more lacking in nuance, however, is Lil Peep himself, with his melodramatic droning being such a brazen attempt at appealing to adolescent emotions that the listener would have to seriously sacrifice their critical faculties in order to buy into the front that the rapper is putting on. Indeed, for the most part, Come Over When You’re Sober (Part One) is about as subtle and, at the worst of times, as painful as a sledge-hammer to the face.
The Vinyl Verdict: 3/10