Long before "emo rap" was trending on SoundCloud and blaring from fentanyl dealers' iPhones, there was Atmosphere. The Minneapolis hip-hop duo of lyricist/rapper Sean "Slug" Daley and producer Anthony "Ant" Davis are celebrated for their emotionally fragile albums, such as 2002's.God likes uglyand that of 2008When life gives you lemons, paint gold. In those years he was called "backpack rap" - an indie rapper with a nose for mainstream music, money and a woman on the radio. These were the types who focused on introspection and self-reflection, big ideas and small bank accounts. Many of the artists from the Definitive Jux and Rhymesayers labels have pioneered the subgenre, such as the encyclopedic Aesop Rock and the politically charged Brother Ali.
Atmosphere wrote a lot about frustration and fear, particularly in classic songs like "Fuck you Lucy"from"Trying to find a balance.” Slug's mission to attract griefers and brainstems can be seen as prescient or downright evil, depending on how much weight you're willing to give his mantras. Take for example, "Larger images”, the second single from their latest album, the mouthful of galaxy brainThere are so many other realities at once. In this issue, Slug takes us on a chronological journey through his life at the ages of 1, 11, 21, 31, 41 and 51, which he will be doing in September. In his early years he was “just the first son to lift the burden. I was barely human' and 'an extension of the environment and reinforced messages'. As an adult, I'm "learning how to deconstruct my puzzle" and "following my plan and trying to find some comfort in how the stars line up." I could see how someone might feel that these fragments are trying too hard to be meaningful or "fake-deep". Especially in the last moments of the song, where he repeats "over and over" until his voice breaks and strains. Maybe a bit melodramatic for the half-centenarian, but I personally like the feeling it brings to the whole piece.
The previous few Atmosphere albums were released in 2019, 2020 and 2021. With things looking pretty normal again, May 2023 might seem a little late for a band to release music that reflects the mental toll of the COVID-19 pandemic . First single and album opener "Okayhe refers directly to it: "I have to believe in the simulation we live in, I spent the entire stimulus control on some stimulants." But how burdened many of us were at the time, and probably still are, is not unwarranted. And after listening to this album so much in preparation for this review, I think it may have landed at the perfect time.
So many other realities...it runs through 20 songs in just over an hour, but it feels like a light and cohesive listen. A handful of songs are under two minutes, like off-kilter"Pure”, which appears to be about Slug discovering his love of music as an escape from real life. "When preachers and pastors talk about the rapture, I think about eating Stratocasters." There is also "After tears', with Atmosphere label mate and former tour supporter Sa-Roc. Leads the song without Slug vocals and raps wistfully about the end of a bad relationship. Even a nod to the group in the closing lyrics: “Well, maybe I need space to be able to face what I fear, that without you I could be a huge improvement on my vibe. So choose your destiny."
A handful of other features also contribute to the Atmosphere family. Shepard Albertson delivers the chorus "Event”, a generic mournful song that fits right into the Atmosphere catalogue. Albertson was previously featured in "Crimson skiesby Felt, the collaboration between Atmosphere and Californian rapper Murs. "gossipis a wild, dance-inspired version that probably gives props to 1980s synth-pop-turned-90s band Talk Talk. Most of the song is delivered by Bat Flower, aka fellow Minneapolis musician Dan Monick. Monick played drums for Lifter Puller, the band Craig Finn and Tad Kubler sat in together for The Hold Steady and its namesake "The elevator pullsfrom their 2003 album AtmosphereSeven trips. Finally, British neo-soul singer Murkage Dave provides the emotional hook on "Dead nature,” one of the album's post-pandemic anthems. Slug raps: “Poison in the well, air pollution, government surveillance and home invasions. We predicted Armageddon from the beginning.' Through no fault of Atmosphere, I've been a little burned out on the "still life" thing in music, but given the nature of the subject matter here, I think both Atmosphere and Murkage Dave did a pretty good job. This is the first time the two have crossed paths, with hopefully chances of doing so again.
Ant's production throughout the LP also shines with a mix of traditional sound, jazz and soul sampled instrumentals over completely off-the-wall electronic beats that remind me of some of Paul White's music on recent Danny Brown albums. "In my head” is a highlight, with the relatively sparse production beneath echoing synths and unconventional piano touches. It perfectly complements Slug's distorted vocals and his lyrics about fear and paranoia. Or the penultimate 6-minute piece"Fire sculpture”, It is guided by a basic line that is almost reminiscent ofundergroundthema uit Super Mario Bros.There are a lot of strange space-age sound effects as Slug composes his final, most important farewell. “If I go, I hope I go for supernatural reasons. But man, I'm exhausted, it's all about how you deal with your losses and whether or not you recognize that you're toxic. You are a product of placing prophecy below profit. The last lyrics of the song give some context to the album title: “Let's bring it back to the original theme. It's a graham cracker, marshmallow and some chocolate. These would be the ingredients for s'mores, and with a word in each letter you getThere are so many other realities at once. In an interview with British rap magazine UKHH, Slug says "I called it that because I wanted people to try it and say it," but doesn't specifically say why "s'mores" was his favorite snack nickname.
At the end of the album is the "Okayreplay, which I could have done with or without. I think "Sculpting With Fire" is such a strong conclusion to the world created by the atmosphere, but playing the opener again cleans up the palette a bit and reinforces the idea of persistence even from unpredictability. With this, moments that have no power are depletedSo many other realitiesthey are tiny compared to how great most of them are. Even closing the coda of another song does not affect the time.
Atmosphere is one of the most prolific hip-hop artists active today (not counting the dozens of mixtape rappers), averaging an album every two years since 1997. For any group, no matter how good, it's too rare for any release to be knocked out at this rate. Although I haven't loved or listened to every album since thenWhen life is against, it's a real achievement that they can release such a compelling record on so many mediums so late in their career. And if I've watched Atmosphere long enough, I don't think we'll have to wait long for the next one. At least not in this reality.
Logan Archer Mounts once almost got kicked off the Warped Tour for shouting Disturbed during a band's acoustic set. He currently lives in Rolling Meadows, IL, but tells everyone he lives in Palatine.