yllwblly’s ‘Land Lover’ is an everlasting memory worth revisiting
Scribbled in notebooks and locked away in hard drives for years, the love songs on Land Lover are not new to yllwblly (Boston-based self-taught musician Mark Tseng-Putterman). A near five years following “the collapse of a formative relationship in 2015,” yllwblly has finally decided to revisit those sentimental memories by bundling them up in the form of a debut album. Land Lover, the result of those retrospective sessions, is thus a time capsule of evergreen feelings that have been ruminating within yllwblly’s mind for years. But even given the long incubation period, the songs here remain as raw and visceral as they did on the day he first penned them.
While the majority of the album is steeped in traditional indie folk musings, yllwblly paints with a canvas peppered with elements of psychedelic folk, indie rock, and bedroom pop. Taking cues from personal influences like Jay Som, The Mountain Goats, Mitski, and even Tame Impala, yllwblly has somehow managed to embed just the right amount of whimsical elements within his work while retaining a strong singular voice as a storyteller–quite the accomplishment for a musician whose first feature-length release is as ambitious as it is. It’s these influences that beautifully adorn the project (from the psychedelically inclined pickings of “Show Romance” to stadium-swaying outro to “Trigger”), but Land Lover is importantly an album that stands tall on its own merits. Rough production and a surprisingly flexible singing voice (soft murmurs and strained, controlled croons are all part of yllwblly’s arsenal) give the album an aged feel that makes it sound like a roughened classic. Haunting melodies that seem familiar envelop much of the album’s narrative–almost like you’ve heard them before in a dream. (“I Hope You’ll Get Yours in the End” and “On The Table” are the biggest offenders in being so impressionistically familiar, yet novel.) Deceptively simplistic on the surface, each of yllwblly’s handcrafted songs works in tandem to spin longing refrains that subtly unravels and sticks. These quiet moments of reflection aren’t just personal methods of healing for yllwblly; they’re unshakable snapshots of a relationship once loved.
Which brings me to the true genius of Land Lover–yllwblly’s aching lyricism that trembles with some of the strongest, nuanced emotions to come out of the year. Unlike other albums, Land Lover is a project that importantly reflects on his past with a sense of restrained maturity. While it’s easy to imagine that many of the songs here may have been written in heavy sadness or fits of crumpled frustration, there’s a sense of acceptance that has buffered the intensity of the songs here thanks to the passage of time. He admits that much on “Trigger,” singing, “it’s all that I can do to gather the ashes of the thought / I’d love to keep you here / A memory of a dream I half-forgot.”
But if the songs on Land Lover are a mere half-memory, one can only imagine the brunt force of such feelings five years ago compared to the still-powerful emotions felt on the album. On “The Youngest Child” where the strongest pangs of anger reverberates through its headstrong lyrics (“I speak with the strangest voice as I tell you / Get out of my face / Get out of here” and “It’s not that I think you’re wrong / It’s just that I know I’m right”), yllwblly’s delivery remains calm amongst a flurry of rage. Yet, almost within the same breath, he offers a counterpoint: “You act like you think that I could lay a hand on you / And that breaks my heart in two / To see you see me as that man.” While the former is what was remembered after the fact, the latter is a retroactively added reflection that communicates the disconnect between intent and spur-of-the-moment anger. The same could be said about “I Hope You’ll Get Yours in the End,” a faster-paced song that disguises yllwblly’s snarky message with a cleverly catchy tune. On the other hand, during songs like “The Walking Dead,” “Bedroom Hex,” “Body in the Sea,” and “Santa Maria,” yllwblly eulogizes the end of that same relationship with an introspective longing. So perhaps he says it best himself on “Show Romance,” when he summarizes his feelings back then with two simple phrases: “You were an open wound / And I was a spring wound too tight.”
Even though the spotlight is on the heavy feelings that come alive throughout the album, yllwblly pays tribute to other elements in his life that make it especially true to his own experience as an Asian American. On “American Youth,” he asks, “American dream / Undressing itself / Would you make it true if I vow to you?” And in an even more direct instance, he wonders, “Take me to my homeland / Wherever that is, that is,” on “Roses (Bury Me).” Poetic motifs of the sea (“Body in the Sea,” “Santa Maria”), fleeting seasons (“Walking Dead,” “Trigger”), and burning fires (“Roses (Bury Me),” “American Youth”) further fuel the album’s impressive vitality. As much as Land Lover is an album filled with caustic emotions, there’s an equal amount of consideration when it comes to his own individual identity within the moment.
On the album’s sentimental apex “On the Table,” yllwblly recalls a possible conversation that he once had. “You said, ‘Will you fight for me?’ / I said, ‘I’m a pacifist’ / So love ends in whispers / And not with the fighting of wars.” True to himself and what he stands for, this one line reflects his uncompromising, stolid character both then and now. “I left my heart on the table,” he continues. “Tell me that this time is different.” Even though that foregone chapter of his life has now closed, there’s still a part of his heart that remains scarred and battered, only able to be bandaged by time. Land Lover is, therefore, a remarkably contemplative album that continues with that healing process, cauterizing old wounds the best he can–and allowing yllwblly to bring to life some of the most heart-wrenchingly beautiful love songs of the year.