Lupin is the sound of an arrival. Across eight tracks of subverted, expansive pop, Jake Luppen's solo debut is all sharp edges, a fractured self-portrait pieced together through left-of-center, funk-leaning maximalism. For Luppen, the process of making the record was one of self-discovery and a path to confidence, learning who he could be -- and had always been -- as both an artist and simply a person.
Although Luppen rose to prominence as a vocalist and guitarist in St. Paul's beloved indie outfit Hippo Campus, the songs on Lupin feel like meeting him for the first time. He puts it succinctly: "With this record I wanted to get to the point, and say how things were, as opposed to dancing around them."
In the past, he always took a vaguer route to songwriting, eschewing the personal in favor of broader, shared experiences of his bandmates. Striking out as a solo artist allowed him the space to do the opposite. Instead of hiding behind bigger words or looser ideas, here Luppen finds the bravery to write about his life -- a serious break-up, a health scare, sexual exploration, and discovering his own personhood -- with incisive specificity.
"I feel like for a number of years I lost touch with what I wanted," he explains of the solo endeavor. "I was thinking about other people for so long, this was the first chance to be asked, 'What do I want?' It was just fucking empowering to be faced with those questions."
Written mainly in breaks during a sprawl of 112 shows for Hippo Campus' Bambi from 2018-2019, Lupin was an unexpected path to confidence. It also offered an escape from the grind of endless touring and a way for Luppen to process major and stressful life events directly through songwriting. Like "Vampire," which, despite its lilting undulating synths, was written by Luppen after a CT scan revealed an abnormal mass on his brain, leaving him under the impression he was dying. Or "Lazy," one of the first major break-throughs of the record, which deals with depression destroying self-image and struggling to build a new support system in the wake of a break-up.
Even so, Lupin has a dynamic brightness. Inspired as much by Charli XCX's Pop 2 as it is Tears for Fears, '80s new wave, and Prince, the genre-bending record holds true to a desire to make '80s music filtered through modern technology. Featuring synth and programming contributions from Jim-E Stack and Buddy Ross, Lupin weaves together fragmented drum loops, swooning falsetto, tangles of synths, and sharp guitar-lines, the final product is an off-kilter pop-sheen, one Luppen said was guided more by intuition and feeling than anything else.
Working alongside producer BJ Burton (Bon Iver, Low, Charli XCX), the two spent intensive sessions collecting material, coalescing as many layers felt true to serve the songs. That feels particularly apparent on the chaotic, penultimate "Gloomy," a wild mish-mash of delicate banjo samples atop giant explosions and flubby Juno synths reflective of Luppen's internal turmoil at the time. Or the glitching, loping "KO Kid," loose, off-the-cuff feel, an improvised vocal melody unfurling over a long-held guitar line. Or "May," the album's lead single, a colossal pop gem with crashing drums.
For Luppen, the learning curve of producing his own record, of being singularly at the helm of his sound for the first time felt vulnerable -- as did writing so explicitly about his struggles. In making the record, he reconciled that it was OK to be himself, to be weird, to make mistakes and enjoy the parts of himself he didn't usually get to indulge.
"I spent a lot of time thinking I had to hide behind other people or other things, but I realized, 'No, I'm fully capable of doing this myself, I'm fully capable of having this vision." Luppen explains. "I didn't think that I was but no, there was this whole other part of myself I'd been stowing away out of fear this entire time."