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Who knew that an album ostensibly about loneliness, isolation and night terrors could be so bangin’?  Kid Cudi’s Man on the Moon: The End of Day is a musical revelation.  It is a rare gem in which each song seems to build on the one before it, the beats getting better and better as the album moves along.  The skip button need to not be deployed.

Kid Cudi came up as the first signee to A-Trak’s imprint, Fool’s Gold, a partnership with online retailer Turntable Lab. Their first release, “Day ‘N Nite”, a now legendary anthem about a lonely stoner caught the ear of Kanye West, who just happens to employ A-Trak as his deejay. Cudi then collaborated on West’s 808s & Heartbreak as a singer and writer (“Welcome to Heartbreak,” and “Heartless” and “Paranoid,” respectively).  The lineage is apparent on Man on the Moon, which resides in a similar sonic landscape with 808s and Drake’s So Far Gone mixtape, but this is entirely its own entity – not as sparse as Kanye’s album and Kid Cudi couldn’t be more different than Drake’s coolest-mutha-fucka-on-the-planet persona.  If anything, Cudi may have more in common with someone like Devin the Dude – stoner, loner, womanizer, surprisingly in touch with his feelings.

Thankfully, Cudi doesn’t dwell on his baser tendencies, but instead lets us into his world of fear, anxiety, paranoia and insecurity.  On “Soundtrack 2 My Life” we get some background on the Cleveland native:  his father died when he was young, his mom got him most of what he wanted (“on her Christmas grind”), he had a sister and two brothers (“one hood, one good,”), but he’s also got some “issues that nobody can see.” Drugs, alcohol and women are not an elixir:  “I am happy, that’s just the saddest lie.”

Common shows up to add some narration that ushers along these themes, which are further explored on songs like “Solo Dolo” and “Day n’ Night.”  Despite some unusually dark subject matter, this album is not a downer.  “Cudi Zone,” “Alive” and “Enter Galactic,” as examples, truly soar.

Much of the credit has to be given to the producers, who simply don’t let up.  Contributions from Emile (“Soundtrack…,” “In My Dreams,”) Kanye (“Sky Might Fall,” “Make Her Say”) and indie darlings MGMT and Ratatat (“Alive”) are really astounding.  Cudi co-produces “Sky Might Fall,” as well as “Day n’ Night” with Dot da Genius.

Cudi has a sing/rap hybrid flow and some may want to call this “alternative” hip hop, but those classifications seem meaningless at this point.  Call it what you want, but if a hip hop artist produces something that doesn’t seem quite like hip hop than maybe it means the genre is changing and broadening, which is a good thing.  There is room for both the traditional and the experimental, and lately we’re seeing some quality work in both areas (note Cudi’s standout guest appearance on Jay-Z’s The Blueprint 3).

That’s not to give the impression Man on the Moon isn’t accessible.  Cudi is an excellent songwriter, and there are memorable hooks aplenty all over this record coupled with one inventive and surprising musical production after another.

Cudi’s MC skills, on the other hand, are not all that accomplished.  He has some clever lines, but when paired with Kanye and Common on “Make Her Say”–which does a great job flipping Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face” – it’s clear that Cudi is out of his league.  It’s this flaw in his delivery (not a great rapper or singer) that keeps Man on the Moon from approaching classic status.  Cudi does possess a willing vulnerability, but he hasn’t yet found the best way to express it.

The final two tracks, “Hyyerr” and “Up Up and Away” don’t quite matchup with the rest of the album and feel almost like bonus tracks–they may have been better left off. The third to last track, “Pursuit of Happiness” featuring MGMT and Ratatat, with its haunting and distorted electric guitar sound, finds a spiraling out-of-control Cudi on a misguided quest for happiness but ends up with him asking, “Tell me what you know about them night terrors every night/5 a.m., waking up, cold sweats, to the sky/tell me what you know about dreams, dreams/tell me what you know about night terrors, nothing/you don’t really care about the trials of tomorrow/rather lay awake in a bed full of sorrow.” This is the furthest thing from your standard issue hip hop.  It would have been the perfect place to end.  - Stefan Schumacher

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