Yung Lean first caught my attention upon randomly watching his video for ‘Hurt‘ on YouTube. At least for me, it was a match made in heaven. What I saw was a 16 something year old kid who was rapping about Nintendo 64, Louie Vitton duffle bags full of heroin, Arizona Iced Tea, and feeling sad emotions over a cloud rap/ vaporwave beat. The visuals were nice too. One reason why I liked Yung Lean in the first place is because his music married trap with vaporware, a weird world filled with slowed down Muzak samples, 90s corporate nostalgia obsession, and absurd artwork.
Along with Bones, Yung Lean and his production team (collectively known as Sadboys) helped lay down an aesthetic that was strange and unique yet familiar. Sadboys2001 was my first proper introduction to him as well as arguably the finest representation of his aesthetic. In this project as well as Unknown Death 2002 he mixed this music with an unfiltered, youthful energy that he unfortunately is able to capture on Unknown Memory. Due to this lack of energy and creative aesthetic, Unknown Memory just becomes a slog of familiar yet uninspired sound. This album shows Yung Lean at his laziest and most uninteresting.
Yoshi City, dropped last June, is a solid song. Yung Lean’s vocals flows with the spacious production in one cohesive piece. Also, the lyrics are passable, yet not absurdly amazing like on his earlier work. The problem with Unknown Memory then isn’t with the song itself, but rather with the songs surrounding it. There is little to no variety in this album, and while that may be the point, it gets boring and feels non-existent after many listens. Its to the point that its easy to lose track of what song you are listening to if you’re not looking at a track list.
Because of the lack of energy, all effort is thrown out the window. To put it in other words, Yung Lean simply doesn’t try. He sticks to a mold that he is all too comfortable with. Sunrise Angel has a half-assed sense of triumph to it, like trying to celebrate a non-existent victory. On Ghosttown, Travis Scott’s appearance starts out great but is bum rushed before it has time to fully develop into something worthwhile. It’s difficult to be descriptive about an album that repeats itself because then you just end up repeating yourself.
That being said, the production in many areas is enjoyable. There are certain nuances that appear on many songs that while not specifically notable, helps represent the best aspects of Yung Gud, Yung Sherman, and White Armors’ production. However, said nuances are not enough to justify the monotony present. It’s a drone of auto tune and cloud rap production that ends up being inconsistent and even cheap sounding most notably in the interludes. This isn’t cheap sounding in the same way in which vaporwave pioneers James Ferraro or Vektroid make corporate detritus sound interesting, but like that of a Youtube video on the lowest possible resolution.
If Yung Lean is counting on this album as being a major release, its not making much of an impression. Its simply a rehash of the type of music that Yung Lean makes, not necessarily what he is capable of at his most creative endeavors. If he is treating it as a minor release, it’ll simply be remembered as one of his weaker, more insignificant projects. Unknown Memory isn’t unlistenable or even bad, it just isn’t memorable. Yung Lean is capable of much more, but should work on seeking progression rather than stasis.