Vinyl Reports: Yung Lean and Charli XCX

(Vinyl Reports is an AnalogPlanet feature aiming to create a definitive guide to vinyl LPs. Here, we talk about sound quality, LP packaging, music, and the overarching vinyl experience.)

Usually, Vinyl Reports features are massive extravaganzas with records new and old, detailing vinyl pressings of things mostly not previously reviewed here. This segment, however, only updates my thoughts on previously (digitally) reviewed new albums and their physical editions’ quality.

Yung Lean - Starz

YEAR0001 YR0103LPX limited edition glow-in-the-dark 2x180g 45rpm LP (+ YR0103CD limited edition CD)

Produced by: Whitearmor (executive) and Yung Sherman
Engineered by: Unknown
Mixed by: Pelle Gunnerfeldt
Mastered by: Robin Schmidt at 24-96 Mastering (digital), Dave Turner at Curve Pusher (vinyl)

Music: 9
Sound: 7 (vinyl), 8 (CD)

Yung Lean in 2020, much like Lou Reed in the mid 70s, occupies a unique place in music culture. Seven years after Lean’s viral hit “Ginseng Strip 2002,” he’s already highly influential, adored by a relatively small but devoted following, and releases whatever the fuck he wants. Cloud rap is now the “underground” phenomenon, and most new artists owe their careers to Jonatan Leandoer. Aside from the obvious, I can’t name a more important current figure. Leandoer and the Sadboys crew in some aspects reinvented cloud rap, although they don’t trap themselves inside it; Lean and Gud have the excellent punk side project Död Mark (I highly recommend the limited vinyl-only Live In Stockholm album), and the former as Jonatan Leandoer96 has successfully experimented in hypnagogic pop and Daniel Johnston-inspired indie rock. Starz, the new Whitearmor- and Yung Sherman-produced Yung Lean album, is his best work to date. Whereas his previous height, 2016’s Warlord, was bombastic and cold, Starz retains the drugged-out vibe but in a warmer, more inviting tone. It emphasizes loneliness and the feeling of drug use and near-death experiences more than his earlier Yung Lean work. Whitearmor’s executive production is among his best full-length efforts, with ambient electronic instrumentals projecting Yung Lean even further into the future. Sure, there are a few filler tracks, but songs like “Boylife in EU” and “Acid at 7/11” are among the greatest of all time, so it’s barely worth mentioning. As mentioned in my original review, for anyone who remotely cares about music’s evolution, Starz is an essential record.


In late June, physical copies went on sale through Lean’s online store. There’s a webstore exclusive limited edition glow-in-the-dark 2LP with extra inserts ($30), an exclusive limited CD in a printed silicone case ($25), standard green/black double vinyl ($26), and a standard jewel case CD ($12). All are still available, although the standard editions haven’t widely dropped quite yet. I ordered the limited vinyl and CD variants, and after a couple warehouse delays they’re finally here. The glow-in-the-dark 2LP is cut at 45rpm by Dave Turner at Curve Pusher and pressed on 180g vinyl in Sweden (I don’t yet know if the standard 2LP is different). The track split, while perfectly even (four songs per side), is terrible and unfortunately highlights the (few) filler songs. The glow vinyl isn’t as bad as you’d expect – there’s a constant static-like hiss, but few pops or crackles (probably because of the louder 45rpm cut). The vinyl mastering, however, in my opinion strays too far from the digital. Whereas the 44.1/16 digital/CD is clean albeit sharp and spacious, the vinyl in comparison seems overly smooth and dried up. While the vocals are already upfront in the mix, on the LP they’re completely boxed in the center with the production muddled. I actually prefer the CD for this; it still has all the general problems of CDs, but sounds more like how this album should sound. (At publication time, YEAR0001 hasn’t responded to requests for comment.) To an extent, the vinyl sounds good, but not right. It’s also worth noting that the vinyl has Playboi Carti’s “Yayo” verse, removed for legal reasons from CD and digital editions (I assume the vinyl was cut before the issues arose).

Despite the disappointing LP sound quality, the packaging is excellent. The discs are in thick printed inner sleeves, with an A6 postcard (taken from the “Outta My Head” video), a double-sided A2 poster (photo on one side, lyrics on the other), and a 36-page A5 booklet with art and lyrics. The set is housed in a direct-to-board gatefold jacket which itself comes in a printed PVC outer sleeve. At $30, it’s a no-brainer for the packaging alone (for context, fellow YEAR0001 artist Ecco2k’s quickly sold-out first edition E CDs cost $34 each, though in my opinion still worth it). The glow-in-the-dark vinyl needs a few minutes of steady light exposure to glow, but even then it’s faint. The limited edition CD (pressed at Optimal, not that CD pressing matters much) comes in a round printed silicone protector, placed with a portrait sticker inside a printed zip-locked bag. My advice? Get both the limited edition 2LP and CD for their respective virtues. We’ll update this if the standard vinyl is sonically different/better.

Charli XCX - How I’m Feeling Now

Asylum UK 0190295209285 orange vinyl LP

Produced by: A.G. Cook (exec), BJ Burton (exec), Charli XCX (exec), Dylan Brady, Palmistry, and Danny L Harle
Engineered by: See above
Mixed by: Geoff Swan and Niko Battistini
Mastered by: Stuart Hawkes at Metropolis (vinyl and digital)

Music: 8
Sound: 7

(Yes, I already reviewed this. Yes, I now like the album more. And yes, you will deal with it. Now, on with the review.) In my original review of Charli XCX’s quarantine record How I’m Feeling Now, I said, “While representative of the moment, [HIFN] likely won’t age well.” Now that we have a better idea of COVID-19’s historical impact, this 37-minute album made socially distanced in six weeks is an interesting time capsule. The vibe of the pandemic (along with everything else) has drastically changed since the album’s May digital release, from trying to make the most of it to simply giving up. While relistening to Charli’s discography, How I’m Feeling Now finally clicked. Billed as “[2017 mixtape] Pop 2’s frantic emo younger sister,” it’s not on the same (all-time great) level of that tape or last year’s self-titled album, but HIFN is still unique. It doesn’t break any new musical ground, but its creation was an interesting experiment. As for the actual songs themselves, my initial review remains relevant (except “enemy” is more artistically effective than “forever”); it’s better as a full record than a set of individual songs. It’s not an essential LP, but a very enjoyable 2020 artifact.

If you’ve bought a new Charli XCX vinyl within the last four years, this HIFN vinyl is exactly what you’d expect: digital mastering and cutting by Stuart Hawkes at Metropolis, and standard weight (140g) colored vinyl pressing at Optimal. This time, the mostly flat and quiet vinyl is neon orange/pink, packaged in a photos- and fan art-lined gatefold jacket. The sound here is equivalent to the 44.1/24 files; this mix doesn’t translate to 33rpm vinyl as well as the 45rpm self-titled LP, and gets fatiguingly bright and overcompressed. If the mixing and mastering isn’t to your taste, with the officially released master quality stems you can remix and master the entire album yourself. “claws” on the vinyl barely has dynamics, and “enemy”’s ending is too blown out (light inner groove distortion worsens it). Worst is “7 years,” which to my ears seems like a flawed mix they attempted to “fix” through extreme mastering compression. Overall, How I’m Feeling Now is the worst sounding Charli vinyl I own (all of which I’ve reviewed here), which is quite disappointing for such a solid album.

(Malachi Lui is an AnalogPlanet contributing editor, music lover, record collector, and highly opinionated sneaker enthusiast. Despite endlessly complaining about their price hike, for reasons mentioned in an upcoming review he found himself renewing his VMP subscription. Follow Malachi on Twitter @MalachiLui and Instagram @malachi__lui.)

MalachiLui's picture

in before anyone comments that haha. don't worry, a lot more coming soon including reviews of: bowie, ron carter, spiritualized, the weeknd, bob dylan, and many more. there, no more reason to complain. on with the rest of your day plz.

Carrol Speed's picture

Not sure why this kind of music is reviewed on a website called "Analog Planet" I assume this is all digital? I am usually open to new music but this is repugnant. Insipid Is putting it nicely.

MalachiLui's picture

it's... still on vinyl, which is analog. yes, it's digitally recorded, but this isn't AAA Planet dotcom! if we were All-AnalogPlanet, we couldn't even review the beatles remixes, or the new tom petty 'wildflowers' box with its digitally mixed bonus content.

and with these particular albums, an all-analog recording would be IMPOSSIBLE. whitearmor's sound is digital (in a good way), and it's logistically impractical for a distanced, quarantined production to be done to tape. we get it, you just don't like cloud rap and bubblegum bass. just say that next time.

Anton D's picture

Without your own post, the over/under on banging on Malachi was 2 1/2, so "under" still wins the bet on how long before your flame attractive the first bitter moth.

Scroll down the front page here and you will find 90+ % 'vintage' recordings. Malachi obviously ruined the nice old-person vibe with his review here.


ChrisM's picture

I don't like Tom Petty, I think it's musically weak, the Beatles ? I heard them too many often, the music is destroyed. Dylan ? Well it can be good Lay Lady Lay, the duets with Cash, but most of the times Dylan did recitative songs, and I like music. BTW the academy of Nobel did give him a prize for literature, it's like they said to him : "Hey man you're ok as a singer, but you're best at writing text". Which is the case ... in that perspective maybe Yung Lean and Charli XCX will be the next Nobel literature prices... in the future ;-) But forget the music ...

Michael Fremer's picture
Yung Lean sounds like my Hebrew School rabbi davening (praying), and i didn't much go for that but the backdrop is somewhat more interesting. Charli XCX? Also not for me but The New Yorker ran a profile over the summer so it's not that she's obscure. In any case, the site is only enhanced by young artist reviews by a young reviewer.
MalachiLui's picture

i'll blame your autocorrect for typing "yung" as "young" but exactly. it's kinda funny how a lot of people think i ONLY listen to charli xcx, yung lean, kanye, and tyler, the creator. they're some of my favorite artists, yes, but half of my music tweets now are about 90s british rock lmao, everyone needs to get with the program and/or move out from under their (classic) rock

latheofheaven's picture

You have a excellent, flowing way of writing Malachi which shows a lovely talent and I'm sure that we all look forward to your work as you continue to progress.

I think that here, though, considering the aging clientele (did I say that?!) you may feel a bit of an uphill climb with some of the more crotchety members (and I'm NOT including you Michael. God knows it's not your fault you were born 85 years ago) So, writing about these 'newer' Genres here will I think take a bit of endurance and patience on your part. But, dude... I know you may not like references to your age, but, seriously, you're doing great!

As far as the Yung album, I will admit that I was cringing in anticipation of hearing the 'usual' whining rap monotone and that ever-present wearisome clap sound on the 3rd beat. BUT... I was quite pleasantly surprised at the VERY Dreamy sound as Michael mentioned about the background. A nice moody sound and the way he uses his voice is very complimentary to that and a VERY welcome change from a lot of the stuff I hear coming out of the cars around me. Not bad at all...

Keep up the good work mate! Try to be patient with us (especially the ones who have now fallen asleep during my lengthy post) And, FWIW, a little added spice of graciousness now and then never hurts :)

audiof001's picture

Not loving these all lower case responses.

Tom L's picture

...with Cloud rap, I googled it to find that "Cloud rap (also known as trillwave or based music) is a microgenre of hip hop music. It is typically characterized by its "hazy", lo-fi production."
But if this is correct, doesn't that mean the superior sound quality of the CD makes it...worse?
"Living in today's complex world of the future is a little like having bees live in your head."
-Firesign Theater, I Think We're All Bozos On his Bus.

MalachiLui's picture

maybe use your ears and listen to the goddamn record? and lofi doesn't mean bad, it's more a style than anything else. lofi recordings can have excellent clarity too. plus, i don't consider whitearmor's production to be lofi whatsoever.

Jazz listener's picture

is that really necessary?

MalachiLui's picture


Tom L's picture

...light hearted comments aren't going over so well at the moment.
I thought quoting a comedy record would be a clue that I wasn't being serious.

MalachiLui's picture

i didn’t notice that when reading it initially (kinda just scanned thru the comment)

Michael Fremer's picture
Can be trying for all....
latheofheaven's picture

But, we figure in the next few years you should come along...

Jazz listener's picture

the nepotism continues...

Montpier's picture

...doesn't sound anything like Metal Machine Music*. Or Sally Can't Dance. Or Coney Island Baby. Okay, maybe I hear a bit of Berlin?

Yeah, I'm being facetious ML, and realize you were referring to your perceptions of Lou's "influence" around that time -- not actual releases -- and concerted effort to piss off record company & expectations of a good chunk of his/her audience.

But looking back, Lou was not all that "unique" around then; there were a number of late 60's/early 70's "cult" artists who after a breakout "hit" (in Lou's case obviously Walk on the Wild Side & Transformer) which appreciably expanded their audience, only to, paraphrasing another in the same boat, Neil Young "heading for the ditch" (releasing Tonight's the Night rather than the recently excavated Homegrown could be thought of NY's 'MMM*'). Bowie shedding Ziggy and zagging Philly soul before ditching to the actual Berlin is another. And of course the songwriter of the generation Dylan beat them all to it with Self Portrait. Unless Lennon/Ono's Two Virgins counts?

I could come up with a few more but turning to the "influence" part: notwithstanding the Bowie covers VU influence really didn't start to pick up until late 70's with post-punk bands like The Feelies, Joy Division, etc. and Eno's infamous VU quote dates to 1982.

While I welcome your attempt to contextualize Yung Lean for clueless boomers like myself, the historical comparison feels gratuitous and kind of off target.

Anyway, the whole structure of the biz and how music reaches its audience has changed so dramatically comparing the career arcs of current "semi-pop" musicians to those from the 70's seems like apples and oranges to me.

Good review though and interesting that you preferred the CD to vinyl. Just kinda wished you dropped the first sentence and opened with stronger case as to how and why you think Jonatan Leandoer and cloud rap is so important for us boomers trying to catch up. Sorry, some of us have lost a step (and in the case of at least one boomer have difficulty with ramps at military institutions -- bone spurs, y'know).

Oh, and Charli XCX is cute and deserves a bit more leeway on SQ for a lockdown production.


MalachiLui's picture

i see what you mean about lou reed, and mostly agree with you, but i think he was more in that in-between area than others like him. plus, the jonatan leandoer96 record ‘nectar’ has A LOT of clear lou reed influence too (most critics hear dylan in there, i sorta do but not as much)

Montpier's picture

Thought you were referencing Lou solely because of his artistic standing. Wasn't clear to me it was also because he'd been cited as an influence on Leandoer.

Listened to a few tracks and while there may be some similarity to Reed's vocal delivery -- and by extension Beck, Steve Wynn, Dean Wareham and many others -- in terms of lyrics and song construction strikes me as a stretch.

I'd be curious as to what were Leandoer's literary influences?

BTW - Suggested reading: if you haven't already, check out Delmore Schwartz's 'In Dreams Begin Responsibilities' (Presumably you're aware he was a professor of Reed's at Syracuse.)

Montpier's picture

... but I can tell you from experience that acid is much better at a Grateful Dead concert than a convenience store. Don't want you to get in trouble from your parents so do not even think about arguing. You're just going to have to trust me on that!

solarboy297's picture

I seldom like the music but always listen. What is almost as much fun is reading these over the hill, self-satisfied old geezers complaining... or raving about their pristine 45RPM double Who's Next album or fill in the blank. Get over yourselves. People have different tastes. If you don't like it... BTW I'm 69. Rock on ML.

Jazz listener's picture

you’re 69 and your name is solarboy297...nuf said.

xtcfan80's picture

As far as "Cloud rap, trillwave or whatever new name given to music it's all pop sub/microgenres/post-punk/neo-Americana genre names are needed. The genre naming crap does a great disservice to the artists and listeners and can limit the exposure of the music in question.

Tom L's picture

Yes, trying to break down music into easily-digested genres and subgenres is ridiculous. That's what I was trying to get at with my googling of "cloud rap". Any attempt to describe a type of music in one sentence or simple term is pointless, and sometimes even hilarious.
Gotta go, the bees and spiders have stolen my food stamps...

MalachiLui's picture

i think broad genre terms – "rap," "rock," "alternative," "electornic," "R&B," etc – are VERY restrictive to both artists and listeners. HOWEVER, subgenre names like "cloud rap," "art pop," "art rock," "synthpop," "neo-soul," "pop trap," "britpop," "post punk," "boom bap," or whatever can be simple but more descriptive. wide categorization sucks but there's a reason it exists with more specific terms too.

xtcfan80's picture

How 'bout trying this??

1. Listen to music
2. Like or dislike the music
3. Repeat Step 1. until you decide you like or dislike the music genre or subgenre naming needed!!!

timware's picture

Jeez, here’s a Concept... Don’t attack others here, no name calling and generalizations about folks’ character.

Stay focused on the MUSIC fercrissakes. ‘This particular thread smacks of elementary school. Sheesh!

And Malachi... Don’t take the bait!

Fsonicsmith's picture

"XCX" has no meaning whatsoever. Which is fine. Charli XCX's music has no meaning whatsoever. I wasted $20 on the latest album. All things being subjective, it is shite. Both of her last albums feature her body. Talk of adolescence has been mentioned by none other than our host. I can put two an two together. Nothing new btw. I remember the cover art of The Ohio Players from my hometown of Dayton, Ohio. But the Ohio Players could put down some funk. Charli, well.....
Malachi-wisdom comes with age. Youth is sturm and drang. You will come out of it fine. No doubt.

MalachiLui's picture

but if you hated that shite so much, then why did you spend $20 on it? you could've saved yourself the money by streaming it first ffs.

and cmon, i think we can all agree that every song on 'pop 2' is catchy as fuck