The album succeeds most when the 25-year-old rapper's writerly tendencies take over. On "Gotta Eat," "Little Weapon" and "Intruder Alert," Lupe dresses up intricate story-raps like dream-sequence riddles. Concealing key bits in cold-open narratives, he comfortably slides into symbolic stream-of-consciousness and conjures images and emotions less-invested rappers simply can't conceive. It's black-hole density stuff, and it's all nimbly articulated: Lupe's as good an enunciator as he is a philosopher.
The Cool has Lupe "breaking" new artist Matthew Santos (he sings on four of its 19 tracks), and Santos' self-serious Coldplay-esque vocals, together with some beats that could easily have gone to Blake Lewis or the Pussycat Dolls, indicate Lupe is vying for a secure foothold in mainstream pop.
But even when the tracks are limp, Lupe is a good actor in a bad movie: He can't write a verse that isn't challenging on some level.
-- ANDREW MATSON
Download: "Little Weapon"
The Magnetic Fields
Stephin Merritt and Co. return for The Magnetic Fields' 10th full-length album with a definitive purpose: Distortion.
While 2004's I made explicit that it was recorded entirely acoustically, Distortion by contrast is exactly what the title suggests -- swirling piles of noise laid over Merritt's notable melodic style. Assisting Merritt's baritone is longtime collaborator Claudia Gonson.
The disappointment with this record is that roughly 10 years ago, Merritt put out such stellar records as Holiday and Charm of the Highway Strip, culminating in 1999's opus three-disc set 69 Love Songs. Not to say that Distortion isn't a great collection of songs -- it is -- but Merritt set the bar so high that even he can't match his own previously prolific output.
The Mag Fields still have their charm totally intact with more songs of love lost, creeping loneliness, and finding the only friend you can trust in the bottom of a bottle.
DOWNLOAD: "Too Drunk to Dream"