Atmosphere – The Family Sign [Review]

Like SBK said in his review of Lemons, it wasn’t until that album that folks really took notice to who Atmosphere was, even though they been doing this since the tail end of the Golden Era. With the bright lights usually comes two things, new fans, and former fans. Speaking almost directly to that theme, Slug talks about this album being made with a focus on family and those folks that have your back and mold you to be who you are even when having to let other folks go their own way. He also said that this album will have a more Minnesota feel to it. I’m not sure what that means, but I do know that based on Imagine, Lemons, and To All My Friends I’m hopeful for this one (album titles shortened of course).

1. My Key
After a ridiculously long intro that instantly reminds me of Whitey Ford Sings the Blues, we’re met with lyrics that leave me scratching my head. I won’t pretend to be the gatekeeper to all things Atmosphere nor will I portray myself as the Emperor of Intellect, but I’m lost on this one. It sounds like this is a song that briefly talks about a lost friend and how he’s now focused on his family…I guess. Now that could be me reaching based on his interviews about the album where he says that family is the focus, but that’s all I got. The song including the track is just mediocre and kind of boring.

2. The Last To Say
I love when Hip Hop takes on social issues so I’m already on board with this one with a topic of domestic violence. Just like before, the track is really simple though, I keep expecting it to pick up…but it doesn’t. I still think the song is pretty good even if it is a bit emo. Anyway, it’s one of my  favorites on the album.

3. Became
Where the previous song is very stripped down, this one has some additional sounds on the track and different nuances that give this a much more lush feel than both of the songs before it. This is a good thing because with the storytelling that Slug does here, it really adds drama and emphasis to the song. The song is about realizing who people are when they show you, they always show you. We tend to get caught up in the facade that people present to us even when we know better and then act shocked when they turn out to be something else. Using a story that comes off like a screenplay, he tells the story of someone eventually becoming who they really are. I’m pretty sure already that this will be my favorite song on the album and probably the most well produced one as well.

4. Just For Show
For the second track in a row, and what I hope is an ongoing theme, we get a more layered track. The tempo and sound is pretty rock/synthed out but it’s not bad. I dig this story as well. It’s funny how women talk big stuff about men not telling the truth and being honest, but they do as much acting as we do when it comes to relationships. A prime example, and I’m speaking in generalities of course, is when women talk about being fed up and upset, but they continue to stay. Stop frontin’, if you’re that upset and disgusted, then leave. Slug puts it quite plainly when he says “I’m painfully aware of my mistakes and / maybe you should break and escape from this situation / or take a little taste of the blame then / instead you full of hate and tellin’ me to get out’cha face yeah / you don’t really want, you don’t really want me (2x) to gooooo / no you don’t, that’s just for show.”

5. She’s Enough
I definitely appreciate the sentiment of the song, a man emphatically raving about what he’ll do/has done for his girl. The track rocks out with strong lead guitar and melodies, but lyrically, this song is kinda simple and the hook comes off as annoying because of the way it’s done. I think the song has promise and like I said, I dig the spirit of it, but I’m not really a fan of the execution.

6. Bad Bad Daddy
Unfortunately, this songs subject-matter becomes irrelevant because of the sound of the song. I hate EVERYTHING about this song including the track, the lyrical delivery, the way that this song paints the picture, it’s placement on the album, the hook, man, look, just SKIP this shit. I’m not alone, if you check the net, most folks are echoing my statements on this song.

7. Millennium Dodo
Once again, I’m lost. The song plays, once again, like a story in a dark movie that I’ve seen before, but I have no idea what he’s talking about on this song. The track is heavy and ominous and like a few of the previous songs, dark and emotional. I think the track is OK, even though it’s a lot more incomplete than I traditionally like, it works on this song. So yeah, I dig the song. I have no idea what he’s talking about but I like the picture he paints while saying it.

8. Who I’ll Never Be
Much like “Just For Show”, Slug is being brutally honest. This time he realizes that the person he’s pining after so hard, isn’t interested in him and ultimately desires someone that isn’t him. Meanwhile, he’s quelling his own desires to be her everything while playing the friend role quietly. The guitars combined with the lyrics really make this sound like something you’d hear at an open mic night somewhere. It’s very poetic and paints a detailed picture of the suffering he’s going through in this situation. You know me, relational music for the win.

9. I Don’t Need Brighter Days
And the open mic churns along on a Phil Collin’s esque track with what songs like bongo drums, synthed out chords, sappy guitar and mystical ambiance damn near making this an audio video. Just like that, I’m over this song. It feels way too “In The Air Tonight” for my liking  on this album.

10. Ain’t Nobody
This song is terrible too. It sounds like a ho-down and a carnival had a baby. I hate his delivery as well too and don’t even care to go into what he’s talking about. SKIP

11. Your Name Here
We’re treated to a track that has more layers and production value over Young and the Restless inspired piano work. Slug basically talks the lyrics on this one and the song comes together pretty cool. You could almost call this “Just For Show pt. 2” as he talks through being over someone after seeing them after an absence. It’s funny how folks think there are always some residual embers that can be reignited just because you have a past with someone. Sometimes, it’s just over when it’s over with no hard feelings or drama.

12. If You Can Save Me Now
There are some songs that just feel like Atmosphere, and this is one of them. We get a return to the thump and even though it’s yet another really loose track, Slug sounds really at home rapping over this beat. This song reminds me a lot of the album You Can’t Imagine How Much Fun We’re Having. More specifically, it has the same musical sound and feel as “Say Hey There (Gotta Get To Mexico)”.

13. Something So
The previous song was really enjoyable, and this one isn’t for me. It’s not a bad song, I’m just not impressed. It’s slow and drawn out, flanked with Slug singing, and some string work that feels a bit too western for me.

14. My Notes
I feel like this is probably the first song that seems to pick up where the last two albums left off. Even though those two were much more traditional in terms of what you think of when you talk about hip hop tracks, this one has that feel of progression that would get you prepared for what this album is. Sadly, at 2:18 we don’t get to enjoy it long before it’s over.

Bottom Line:
Hip Hop is staunchly opposed to change and progression when it comes to it’s artists. Very few are given the type of pass and embrace to challenge themselves and change that Outkast and Phonte have been given. I guess we now have to officially include Atmosphere into that debate. From the albums I’ve heard, these cats have been doing Hip Hop and no matter what that meant musically, there was very few moments that left me confused about who they are. This album isn’t those albums at all. As he stated, this album is decidedly different than the previous albums. The bass and headnod moments have been replaced by silence and swaying. The scratching, rebellious tones and downright humor of previous albums have been replaced with a simple acoustic guitar and maybe some keys, and much more serious demeanor. The majority of the tracks sound incomplete and leave you waiting more and sort of sets the lyrics up for failure because the content on this album is really thought provoking at times.  In the attempt to make an album that is about family and your home core, the innermost of your inner circle if you will, I think he may have all but alienated the backpackers that embraced his music that don’t live in the Land of 10,000 Lakes.