‘Paper Trail’ is a return to form for T.I.

T.I.
“Paper Trail”
3.5 stars out of 5

Atlanta rapper T.I. is back with his sixth studio album, “Paper Trail,” which is, in at least one way, a return to form. While his vocal delivery is often overshadowed by a list of guest appearances, a closer look reveals a greater lyrical focus.

The record has already become T.I.’s first solo release to reach number one. In that sense, “Paper Trail’s” willingness to divert our attention with R&B singers and pop stars swooping in to sing hooky choruses is probably the record’s biggest source of appeal and greatest overindulgence.

It’s impossible to deny the allure of songs like “Live Your Life” and “Whatever You Like.” The former sounds absolutely triumphant with Rihanna taking the lead, while the latter has already established itself as one of the year’s most inescapable singles.

“Swagga Like Us” postures as this year’s top all-star collaboration, but sadly never comes across as more than solid.

Despite a few missteps, T.I. has delivered one of the year’s strongest hip-hop records with help from his outstanding supporting cast, which also includes John Legend, Usher and Justin Timberlake.

Key Tracks: “Whatever You Like,” “Swing Ya Rag,” “Live Your Life”

Secret Machines
“Secret Machines”
3.5 stars out of 5

Earlier this year, Secret Machines got a small boost in popularity after contributing three tracks to the “Across the Universe” soundtrack, one of the most popular movie soundtracks in recent memory. Fitting to the band’s sound, they successfully covered three of the most heavily psychedelic songs in the Beatles’ repertoire.

Their third LP continues in the style of their previous albums, creating dreamy mood music. The self-titled record is a dense eight-song album with a clear taste for dark, layered productions and bass-driven rhythms.

A David Bowie influence can also be heard on some tracks, when the band combines synthesizers with sweeping vocals for some truly effective moments. However, this influence shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise, since Bowie himself has said he is a fan of the group.

As an album, “Secret Machines” often gets bogged down in wall-of-sound guitar-work and psychedelic jams, but the band has the good sense to balance it with solid songwriting.

While the album could be tighter, it has the power to really pull you in at times, and that’s no easy feat for a genre that has a tendency to drone on more than absorb.

Key Tracks: “Atomic Heels,” “Underneath the Concrete”