Review : Atmosphere - The Family Sign
SpinOn the follow-up to surprise 2008 commercial hit When Life Gives You Lemons..., cagey MC Slug and producer Ant are joined full-time by guitarist Nate Collis and keyboardist Erick Anderson, but Family Sign is a spare, solemn affair. No longer the self-obsessed antihero, Slug continues his shift to serious storyteller, but the narratives here lack coherence and detail, while the music - ominous piano, lonely guitar - feels sketchy, like partial demos. And unlike on Lemons, there are no jaunty pop hooks to lighten or balance the mood....full text
Prefixmagollowing the release of 2008's When Life Gives You Lemons You Paint That Shit Gold, Atmosphere decided to focus primarily on touring. Although, to be fair, the Minneapolis duo never really took that much time off from the road. They also found plenty of time to record two projects, 2008's free Leak At Will EP and 2010's double-EP, To All My Friends, Blood Makes The Blade Holy. The latter continued the live band-sound heard on When Life Gives You Lemons while further expanding Slug's lyrical content. While it hasn't been confirmed, you can expect more of that on The Family Sign, the rapper's sixth album with producer Ant. Also, if the title in any indication, perhaps we will hear even more about Slug's family life....full text
PitchforkLots of indie-rap figures wallow in self-pity, bemoan their own bad habits, snap at those who make life hard for them, and somehow find a way to wrap all those emotions up into a resilient shell. But Atmopshere's Slug established a particular knack for it when he broke outside the Twin Cities about a decade back-- every heartfelt line about lonely people or fractured relations was offset by an offhand remark that took some the sting out of his lamentations. Atmosphere got tagged as "emo rap" because there wasn't an easier go-to term for a barfly raconteur with female troubles, but while Slug's lyrics spoke to the same sour impulses that drove teenage misery, they did so through the experiences of someone who discovers to that misery when you grow up.
The catch is that growing up also means growing out of a few things, and The Family Sign catches Slug at a point where he seems to be tilting more towards plainspoken sincerity. The hard-drinking, love-stressed, party-fatigued persona that made him a breakout cult figure 10 years ago might sound somewhere between disingenuous and ridiculous coming from a 38-year-old today. But in stripping some of the more larger-than-life traits of misspent youth away from his approach, he's also lost some of the outsized arrogance and aw-shucks smartassedness that gave his more po-faced moments a three-dimensional context or sharp emotional counterpoint. While The Family Sign has a specific titular focus on loved (and formerly loved) ones and the way people define themselves through them, the real conceptual leap on this album is how patriarch maturity means less jokiness, more earnestness, and a traveled perspective that doesn't leave much room for not giving a fuck.
What room is left winds up parceled out over a couple of highlights. As blunt as the premise is, the negligent alky father meets stoner pickpockets of "Bad Bad Daddy" has a certain caustic bite to it. And the road-ravaged, detail-rich narrative of "Millennium Dodo" evokes the same harebrained excitement-slash-disorientation that made the best moments of 2003's fantastic Seven's Travels stand out. Pointing out his car's mirror-ball décor as an homage to Escape From New York or noting the resemblance between a Best Western clerk and "WKRP in Cincinnati" nebbish Les Nessman is the sort of pop-culture debris that's evocative enough to transcend reference-dropping and hint at the metaphorical reserves in Slug's brain. But the track also starts out with a couplet-- "I only act like an asshole/ Why don't ch'y'all stand back, let the man grow"-- that explains the rest of the album's almost total lack of sardonic edge....full text
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