After last year’s series of experimental releases, Bladee has returned to deliver the most blissful of victory laps. “The Fool” is a happy, straightforward release that reverts to a style similar to one fans had been waiting for since 2018’s legendary mixtape, “Icedancer,” except this time the melodies are brighter, the bass is bouncier and the fat has been trimmed. His subject matter has turned from mall-obsessed conspicuous consumption to vaguely homiletic bars about confessing sin and searching for places beyond lust and temptations of love. If the concept behind “Icedancer” is about an awkward European boy spending all his parents’ money on drugs and expensive clothes, then perhaps “The Fool” is the story of that same boy exiled to a summer camp where he only learns the teachings of a digital pagan god.
Despite the fact that it’s only been a few short months since “The Fool” was released, many of the songs already play like classics. The album’s most popular track, “Hotel Breakfast,” defies logic with instrumentals that sound like a drill beat for an “Animal Crossing” game, replete with camera shutter sound effects and dinky keyboards. Bladee’s flow on the song is mumbled and awkward, yet charming and undeniably unique—lines such as: “I’m a good boy on the track, no cussing” and “Pop out, pop out like a toast, you woke up late, the breakfast’s closed.” Underneath that pastiche exterior of cheap production aesthetics lies an unironically great songwriter, which is part of his appeal.
The antepenultimate track “Trendy” exemplifies this. It’s a song composed of simple autotuned harmonies rocking back and forth over dollar store high hats and synthesizers, but the result is a passionate tribute to knowing your own worth: “No more pressure to pretend/ To be less than what I am.” The instrumental palette that Bladee and executive producer Lusi have created pairs perfectly with this attitude of newfound purity, somehow feeling clean, airy and sharp due to details like the rushes of angelic falsetto on tracks like “egobaby,” “I Want It That Way” and “BBY.” The opening track “The Fool Intro” is beyond catchy, full of sparkling chimes, massive drums and an opening synth lead reminiscent of Lil Uzi Vert’s Eurodance-inspired “Futsal Shuffle 2020,” except that Bladee’s version feels faster and lighter, constantly accelerating. Usual criticisms of Bladee sounding too tired or monotonous don’t hold up against his performance on this song, as he fluctuates between a whispered scream and a rapped falsetto.
While Bladee’s music is deceptively creative and stands very well on its own, it’s not only about the music. The other part of his appeal is the art and worldbuilding that accompanies each release. Each album acts as a new expression of the “Drain Gang” aesthetic, with Bladee’s Instagram, Twitter, music videos and fashion rounding out this holistic audiovisual experience Drain Gang is a rap and experimental music collective based in Sweden, whose other members include rapper and producer Ecco2k, rapper Thaiboy Digital and producers Whitearmor and Yung Sherman. Certain motifs appear throughout all of Bladee’s lyrical work, establishing a sort of Drain lore: a fascination with the numbers three, six and nine; calling himself the “Trash Man” or a “Trash Star,” living in a “Trash World” and naming one of his collaborative projects “Trash Island”; shields, castles, guards and other medievalisms, as well as the cold, wintertime and ice; brands like Prada, Gucci and Moncler. I’m not going to pretend like these aren’t basically esoteric inside jokes, but it’s just as Bladee himself explains on “Hotel Breakfast”: “Take a bunch of empty words and make them mean something.”
More than anything else, “The Fool” is just fun. Bladee has never taken himself too seriously, but this might be where it’s most evident. In one line on “Hotel Breakfast,” he references the confusion regarding his name’s pronunciation: “I’m Bladee she call me Blade-e,” or in “Inspiration Comes (Ft. Thaiboy Digital),” he simply states “Drain High School football tryouts.” Yes, it’s dumb, but it’s also self-aware, and his boyish delivery makes these moments endearing—as he says on “Let’s Ride,” “It’s kinda funny ‘cause you’re so mad and IDGAF / I just wanna have fun.” At the same time, it’s not as though he doesn’t take the task of putting together an album seriously. It’s clear there was a lot of care put into the structure of each track individually, and as a whole the project is incredibly well-paced. It’s the lean and well-crafted product of a professional who has been working at his trade since the early 2010s, which is why it feels like a victory lap. Bladee is merely polishing and refining his formula, presenting himself as an entertainer incarnate, as “The Fool.”