Peep's first posthumous release
When Gustav Åhr died, his career was hovering just above the ground. He was 21 years old with four tapes and a few EPs under his stage name Lil Peep—just enough work to carve out an aesthetic and build a corner of the world. He had just released his album Come Over When You’re Sober Pt. 1, which was generating more attention than anything he’d done before. At shows, fans were starting to chant back every word of his songs. He seemed bemused by the shudders of national attention around him. “I’m here, doing my thing,” he shrugged in an interview with Montreality in April 2017, a few months before his sudden death from an overdose of Fentanyl and Xanax. Later in the interview, he was asked where he’d be at age 86. He laughed at the idea, hard.
Lil Peep lived close to death and seemed comfortable with his proximity to it, which is not the same as wanting to die. He accepted the idea that he veered closer to the edge than some and that he might, at some point, cross the line, a clarity that came through simply and consistently in his lyrics. He never minced words about his depression or his struggles with addiction, nor did he make them seem bigger than they were. He spoke of his pain clearly, and for this, he comforted legions of young fans who felt safer in their own sorrow when blanketed by his.
This plainspoken depiction of deep depression was the emotional center of Peep’s work. It radiated out from everything he did, and reverberates through Come Over When You’re Sober Pt. 2. The project has gestated for over a year, as Peep’s close friend and producer Smokeasac pored over the unfinished album and Peep’s vocal takes alongside his mother, Liza Womack. Womack isn’t just a bereaved mother but a steward of Lil Peep’s work, and she has spoken of her investment in Come Over Pt. 2 on an emotional level as well as an aesthetic one. “If you care enough to pay for an artist’s work, then trust the artist’s work,” she said.
You can feel that devotion poured into the result, evinced as much by what’s here as by what’s not. There are no tagged-on features, no maudlin tributes, no voices pushing from the margins to share the spotlight with Peep. There is nothing but his downcast music, as he would have made it. It is an act of tribute and preservation for an artist whose legacy is still very fragile.
My All & Broken Smile, the first track, opens with one of the only unusual flourishes, a programmed steel drum hit that sounds like a children’s music box. It is a cinematic touch that fades soon into the classic Peep Sound: alt-rock guitar and moaning heard through a fishbowl, viscous melodies that drizzle and pool in your brain crevices. His music sounds like it’s drowning—in dysphoria, in self-awareness, in reverb and low-pass filters. It is pickled in sadness. This wasn’t the only music Peep made—he also rapped over harsh, abrasive goth-trap beats—but this is undoubtedly the sound that he was most famous, and beloved, for.
At the center of the mix, placed where it deserves to be, is Peep’s voice. He was a canny stylist. Like a rapper who lags behind the beat on purpose, he assumed a drowsy delivery, suggesting someone singing for the first time, or someone making fun of their own singing voice. But he was, in fact, a real singer. His voice sounded like Chester Bennington’s yowl caught in a laptop and smoothed over for irregularities. This was evident seeing him live, as well—his voice emerged from his scraggly throat sounding already Auto-Tuned.
His ear for melodies was similarly astonishing. His songs are simple, so simple that they come right up to maddening. But you can look at a Casio keyboard and try to plink out memorable melodies from three or four keys, and you will not stumble across the ones that Peep has picked out. They have a drain-circling, centrifugal force, only enhanced by his bored tone. They pull and pull and pull until you ask yourself why you are resisting and you tumble down with them.
His lyrics were alternately deadpan, wry, bone-chilling, and empathetic, and he wrote as often about intimacy and codependency as he did about cocaine. On Sex With My Ex, he pairs the harsh “F*** me like we’re lying on our death bed” with the tender “Hear the sadness in your laughter.” He would put banalities right beside piercing observations, mimicking the texture of actual conversation. On Hate Me, he takes “the long way home,” but balances it with the freeze-frame image, “Got a couple hundred missed calls in my phone.” He will often keep a song in place with one line: “Break my bones but act as my spine/Wonder who you’ll f*** when I die,” he wonders on 16 Lines. On Life Is Beautiful, as he muses, “When I die, I’ll pack my bags, move somewhere more affordable,” it’s hard to imagine anyone else writing a lyric quite that devastating or sly.
Some of his lines are so vivid they could serve as screenwriting prompts. Life Is Beautiful offers something like an inverse reading of Modest Mouse’s “Float On”—horrible things happen every day, most times life is not okay. Each lyric cuts a little deeper in the same spot: “Tryna keep it cool at your grandfather’s funeral,” or, “You think you’re adorable, she thinks that you’re intolerable.” In real life, you might tell someone you want to die in one breath and complain about a pair of pants in the next; Peep’s lyrics ably seesaw between these poles.
Meanwhile, the guitar lines offer a million minor rewrites on the four-note opener to Metallica’s One and Nirvana’s Heart-Shaped Box, little stick-and-poke tattoo riffs that an eighth-grader plays at a Guitar Center. It is an era as much as a sound, evoked powerfully: Printed tablatures, water-damaged Linkin Park CD booklets, middle school Weezer cover bands, Alternative Press back issues moldering in an old childhood bedroom.
Despite that—all that—Come Over Pt. 2 lacks a single, a glittering pop-punk exclamation point like Awful Things or The Brightside to break up the album’s long drift. But that’s OK, really. The album is a valentine offered to Peep and to his fans, and it is built for immersion, not for persuasion. It adds some indelible entries into Peep’s now-truncated canon—Life Is Beautiful, 16 Lines, Hate Me, IDGAF. And it honors his clear-eyed gaze, even beneath the fog he suffered.
Now that Gustav Åhr is dead, of course, there are lines that hurt to hear. But they are no different than dozens of macabre lines over the course of his career, and if he didn’t flinch at them, perhaps we should take his cue. None of this should overshadow Peep’s winsome positivity; he had a sweetness that was impossible to miss. “He was not as sad as people thought he was,” mused Åhr’s brother, Oskar in an interview after Gustav’s death. “It’s frustrating as someone who remembers a happy brother.” In the same Montreality interview, Åhr parts his dirty hair to show something to the interviewer. “On my face, I got a humongous tattoo that says Cry Baby … to keep me grateful,” he says, smiling a little. “To remind me that I’m blessed.” (Pitchfork)
I’ve listened through the project completely a few times this morning and was happy with it. It is the Peep I want to hear more of. It’s just Peep. It’s vulnerable and open and extremely in tune with the first Come Over When You’re Sober release. I was a bit worried they were going to just through together a bunch of random tracks and they wouldn’t flow or sound good together. But no, this is a cohesive project that unfortunately Peep isn’t here to see, but we’re lucky we get to hear it.