Just over halfway through “lush,” the largely acoustic backdrop gives way to a majestic arrangement of strings and choral harmonies that feels like ascension. Where there was once selfish posturing—“I'm the best you'll ever have, so don't leave,” boylife declares in the first verse—the generosity of release takes its place: “And since I couldn't say 'don't leave,' I hope the future you prepared and the dreams you couldn't share all come true.” The strings signal the transformation within the song and, likewise, marked a turning point for the singer-songwriter. “This was my first time recording a string section. I cried,” boylife tells Apple Music of making “lush.” “Recording strings was the first time I ever felt joy in my life.”
They appear in generous measure on his debut album gelato, imbuing moments of tender vulnerability with drama and offsetting moments of brash dissonance with beauty. Single “peas” is a song of nurture that crescendos into an anthem amid a flurry of cello, violin, and viola, while on the breathtaking “baddreams,” he's at the mercy of an ex-lover as the strings beneath him swell in tandem with his desperation. The details of the musicality here stun again and again, but perhaps most remarkable about gelato is all that boylife shares of himself.
Evidence of his Korean American heritage is peppered throughout and comes to a head on the noise-rap of “superpretty.” Elsewhere, his sense of humor shines on the playfully horny “amphetamine” (“nobody needs to listen to this unless they are sexually frustrated and want to hear ’50s music in their 1984 Cadillac DeVille,” he told Apple Music), but a touching interlude tacked onto the end features a friend encouraging him away from any shame that plagues him due to his bipolar diagnosis. A couple songs later, “lush2” offers a glimpse of the inner turmoil that can manifest as a result of the disorder as he oscillates between thoughts of self-harm and self-preservation. boylife's knack for experimentation holds the range of narratives and emotions together while keeping the journey of gelato full of twists and turns. If the layers, distortion, and vocal effects that mutate his own sentimental tone are meant to simulate the restless sea of the human experience, then the honesty conveyed in his lyrics is the lifeboat offering a way through.