“Loss & Gain Are The Same:” Bladee & Mechatok’s Immersive Good Luck

In 2014, Swedish cloud rap artist and Drain Gang collective leader Bladee (Benjamin Reichwald) emerged with the lo-fi cloud rap single “Into Dust.” The song’s shallow lyrics (“I’m gonna bleed in the club/I got weed in my lungs/I don’t need any love/I can’t feel when I’m drunk”) and rudimentary video (a sunglasses- and sweater-clad Bladee stumbling through a forest with “WHYY” superimposed over the footage) are often memed, though he’s shifted styles several times since then.

2016’s debut album Eversince represented a quantum leap in musical quality and aesthetic refinement: Whitearmor (Ludwig Rosenberg)’s production is otherworldly and futuristic, Reichwald fully enters the drugged-out, vampirical Bladee character; and the dark, autotuned performances are genuinely emotive. After 2018’s moody, muted Red Light, starting with his Icedancer mixtape Reichwald’s work became more uplifting and overtly psychedelic. In 2020 alone, the ever-prolific artist released three projects: April’s EXETER mixtape, July’s LP 333, and the Mechatok collaboration Good Luck, released in December.

Throughout this artistic development, Bladee’s collective (always consisting of Ecco2k, Thaiboy Digital, Whitearmor, and Yung Sherman) shifted from Gravity Boys to Shield Gang to Drain Gang, in many ways mirroring the transition from hazy, amateur simplicity to underground stardom to bona fide innovators. Further, Bladee’s fanbase might be the most obsessively loyal outside of the mainstream pop sphere; Drainers, as they’re called, live in his alternate universe seemingly full time, analyzing their favorite “trash star”’s every move, quoting his lyrics and reposting related images and memes. Beneath the abstract music and puzzling social media posts, Reichwald maintains his notorious privacy, which only further perpetuates the myths. “My fans always say I’m like an angel. I don’t identify with that. I’m not special, I’m just like you,” he told i-D in 2018.

As a younger generation influenced by Drain Gang gains distinction in the still-undefined “hyperpop” space, Bladee’s pop sensibilities shift to the fore. Good Luck, produced entirely by Berlin-based electronic artist Mechatok (co-billed with Bladee; among his other work is the Defective Holiday video game soundtrack and Ecco2k’s “Security”), is thus far the height of Bladee’s latest reinvention. Over eight songs in 21 minutes, the two craft unabashed electropop, dominated by maximalist synths, dance beats, and Bladee’s catchy, minimalist hooks. Even compared to the bright psychedelia of EXETER and 333, Good Luck is happy and optimistic; Reichwald’s depressed croons are long gone, replaced by floating melodies sung in a higher register. He’s too experimental to become a mainstream superstar, but he’ll never quit trying.

Good Luck opens with Mechatok (Timur Tokdemir)’s “Intro,” an ambient instrumental displaying his defining production characteristics. Never letting a note sustain too long, Tokdemir’s synth leads bounce around his expansive soundscapes, accompanied by angelic autotuned voices and additional backmasked synths. Bladee fully enters on “Rainbow,” a lyrically simple love song with distorted synth lines and a four-on-the-floor beat. “I could’ve had it all, I didn’t wanna have it/If you don’t believe it, how can I work the magic?” Reichwald sings as listeners enter his immersive world. The following songs, “Sun” and “God,” toy with a certain undefined spiritual concept: is it God, the power of love, or DMT? (Bladee’s exact spiritual beliefs are unknown, though he does believe in a higher power and possibly embraces occultism. Whatever it is, it only enhances his new age hippie-meets-high-end hipster persona.)

“Drama,” the album’s club-friendly 2-minute lead single and evident highlight, opens the second side. Led by weightless, wailing synths and a unique slant on trap production, Bladee (vaguely) sings about a deceptive partner who could still “save” him. It’s one of Reichwald’s catchiest songs, and also one of his least structured; the original version doesn’t have a proper “verse,” rather an altered repetition of the chorus. It makes perfect sense that Good Luck’s album cycle concluded with a Charli XCX remix of the track; both artists extensively use autotune, and Good Luck is Bladee’s biggest step into the pop experimentalist realm that Charli has for five years prominently occupied.

The album continues with “You,” a gentle transition track anchored by Mechatok’s nature-evoking synths and Bladee’s fragile falsetto. “Into One” masters the EDM drop that the earlier songs teased, building up into blown-out electronic drums and warped synths. As with most of Bladee’s recent (often freestyled) songs, the lyrics’ meaning is unclear; the line “Can make two into one (how could I not?)/Never be enough/Can make two into one/Never be alone” could equally apply to Reichwald’s merging of reality and fantasy, or a romance. The spaced-out closer “Grace” appropriately sums up the album’s atmosphere, vocal technique, and lyrical ambiguity. Bladee repeats the mantra “Come down with grace;” it’s either about God or a Drainer’s DMT trip. The song fades out seemingly immediately after it starts; with that, Bladee leaves fans anxious for the next album.

Despite this record’s presence in platform-generated hyperpop playlists, it fell short of many Drainers’ expectations. It’s easy to understand why: the “club” tracks strongly anchor Good Luck, while the lighter songs act as transitions or filler. Since Good Luck’s December digital release, Bladee dropped The Fool to greater acclaim this May. Produced by the elusive collective Ripsquad, The Fool is breezier, more focused on Bladee as a person/character, more grounded in reality, and ideologically closer to his older work (though more joyful). However, it doesn’t take the 2020 projects’ risks and appears more as a fan-serving refinement rather than an advance (Reichwald famously avoids online fan interactions to focus on his own creativity). It’s pointless to speculate the ever-unpredictable artist’s reinventions to come, though hopefully he drastically alters the formula soon.

While Drain Gang’s digital presentation is meticulous, their online universe has yet to fully transition to the physical realm. Bladee’s merch drops in particular are extremely limited (often a few hundred units per item), and until now, his only physical albums were Eversince and Red Light CDs now commanding hundreds of dollars. Good Luck is the Drain Gang CEO’s first vinyl release (more to come soon) as a limited edition 45rpm picture disc LP. Housed in a blank white jacket with a tracklist/credits sticker, the disc comes in a PVC sleeve with the deluxe album art printed on a transparent plastic sheet. The record, cut and pressed at GZ (through UK broker ACRM), sounds better than the other YEAR0001 vinyl I’ve heard but still not great. The GZ cutting engineer rolled off the low bass, which unfortunately diminished some of the digital master’s impact and atmosphere. The picture disc itself (designed to emulate the devil/angel Good Luck coin) has the expected noise, but it’s mostly obscured by the loud cut. The record originally sold for $25 and now commands Discogs prices about double that; it’s a good purchase for hardcore Drainers (such as this writer), though isn’t a core collection essential.

(Malachi Lui is an AnalogPlanet contributing editor, music lover, avid record collector, and Drainer. Recently, he spent hundreds of dollars on original Alfa Records YMO LPs. Follow Malachi on Twitter: @MalachiLui and Instagram: @malachi__lui)

COMMENTS
xtcfan80's picture

Interested in this "drop" but my Swedish cloud rap artist section is too full to fit in another LP....

MalachiLui's picture

you're missing out!

Duke86fan's picture

oh shit we need to watch out before you end up getting huge into the hexd seen soon... bladee is very controversial for a surprising amount of reasons. personally I cant get into how his voice can be monotone but also frustratingly irritating

MalachiLui's picture

ok so i'm not super huge into the other hexd type stuff, i find a lot of it too off the walls to be listenable (though one of my friends is really into it). bladee's music definitely is controversial but i love it (i never thought it was bad, actually), i think his voice now is less monotone than it used to be (but 'eversince' remains my favourite bladee LP.

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