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Atmosphere - Southsiders

We let a comedy writer review the new Atmosphere album because he wouldn’t leave our offices.

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ALBUM: Southsiders

ARTIST: Atmosphere



Perhaps the most important thing I can tell you about the new Atmosphere album is that no Atmosphere fans wanted to review it. In a group of music critics and Atmosphere fans, the only guy they could find to review the album is a washed up RV salesman from Penticton, British Columbia. I'm not an Atmosphere fan; I'm not even from Minneapolis, so maybe I'll have a different idea of it. After all, a lot of Kanye West fans didn't like Yeezus because Yeezus doesn't sound anything like Late Registration.

Ant’s production on Southsiders is pretty great. Let's get that out of the way. It's obviously designed to showcase Slug's lyrical talents: none of the songs are overpowering, DJ Khaled summer anthems where it's like, whatever, Juicy J, you do you. This would be appropriate, I'm told, for 2002 Slug, because something about Napster agreed with his temperament, apparently.

Things fall apart when Slug starts rapping. My editor once pegged Slug as the second-best rapper of all time, and I can't see it. Between similes about things that are cold (popsicles, rivers*) and clarifying that while he loves you like a brother he isn't actually your brother, Slug brings a lot of things to the ninth-grade writing workshop that his classmates are already tired of. There are flashes of brilliance, I guess, but there's a lot of stuff to work through.

Sometimes it's poor writing, sometimes it's poor delivery, sometimes the ideas that form the backbone of this album just don't seem that well formed. On “Camera Thief” (among other songs), Slug expresses sentiments roughly on par with Eminem's later work. It's a hollow, middle-aged realization of responsibilities that go beyond liquor and fireworks. It's not interesting, it's certainly not unique, and it barely qualifies as insight.

I would never give this album a failing grade; it certainly satisfies the assignment, but people generally expect something special from Atmosphere and it falls well short of that. The production does a lot of the heavy lifting, and there are glimpses of what makes Slug Slug, but let's not act like this is an album we're going to be talking about after August.

“So high, I feel like a pilot”

1. Camera Thief
This is a good beat. Lyrically, the song is almost entirely expended after the first couplet, a pun on the title of the song. It's difficult to understand what exactly Slug is trying to express: here's a lot of regret, or maybe nostalgia, in this song, coupled with some pride(?). Also, there are more elegant ways to express regret than to say “If I had a time machine/I'd probably use it like a vacuum and try to clean”. I rate this song a S04E01 of Arrested Development/10.7.0
2. Arthur’s Song
Hey, look, more good production. In an ode to whiskey, Slug presents a fairly simplistic version of the boozed-brothers blues. He realizes that alcohol is hurting people but he likes it, so, like, whatever. I give this song a 7.0 because it made me drink bourbon. This is not the last time on this album that Slug applies the formula of "high as (thing in the sky)," which isn't exactly the masterclass in lyricism I'm supposed to expect.7.0
3. The World Might Not Live Through the Night
I'm really worried. This is the first review I've done for Impression of Sound and I would really, really like for the album to be pretty good, not great or anything, but pretty good. Give it a 7.9 and showcase some musical knowledge or whatever. Average analytics, no negative comments, call it a day. I get my PayPal money and nobody gets hurt. Reviewing a mediocre album from a beloved group with a dedicated following is basically the nightmare scenario. But hey, I feel comfortable describing this album as “apocalyptic, little predictable”, so at least I got something out of this song.5.0
4. Star Shaped Heart
This song highlights a greater problem with the album: I can't tell if Slug is being serious or not. Some of these lyrics are so cheesy that I can't tell, and Rap Genius isn't helping me at all. Is highlighting the van/vandalism repetition supposed to impress me? Am I supposed to laugh? You make “cold as a river/in the winter” your hook later in the album, and I can't get a read on the rest of the album.6.0
5. I Love You Like A Brother
Is “You shouldn't waste your breath to criticize my mess” a message?6.0
6. Southsiders
See, here's what I'm talking about. Big beat, aggressive tone, and “Follow each other around like a bunch of ducks”. IN A REAL SING-SONGY VOICE. Where does that fit in? Is that a reference to a children's book my parents never read me? Because it's easier to show a kid Top Gun than to stumble through Duck Duck Goose? Or whatever? Fuck?5.5
7. Bitter
Alright, as critic of this album, I'm okay being called SO BITTER, COLD LIKE A RIVER, IN THE WINTER, as long as I can shout SO BITTER, COLD LIKE A RIVER, IN THE WINTER every time someone tries to defend this album. Deal?4.5
8. Mrs. Interpret
Again, Ant does good work. God's work, really, considering that a lot of this stuff is going to be great on Sway in the Morning. I wouldn't describe Slug's work here as bad, except the whole "baby birds" fiasco, but it falls well short of both the production, and the focus, and the fact that When Life Gives You Lemons You Paint That Shit Gold exists.6.0
9. Fortunate
Hey look, I'm almost halfway done. A lot of these songs make great background music for talking shit about this album. So high I feel like a pilot happens, so that's… yeah. That's what happens. High school stoner philosophy.6.0
10. Kanye West
This is pretty good. None of it's offensive, there's no animal imagery—OH WAIT there's the popsicle lyric. What the fuck, Slug. What the fuck. Otherwise, it's an okay meditation on death and making a life together and middle-aged thoughts that I'm not qualified to evaluate but am certainly not repulsed by.6.0
11. My Lady Got Two Men
And I can’t even lock down one.7.0
12. We Ain’t Gonna Die Today
It's been a while since a truly bad song has come by on this album. Is this because the second half is better? Am I forgiving more? Am I just less interested?
13. Flicker
Hey, you know what, this is a good song. I realize that I'm trashing this album, but this is a good tribute to Eyedea, or diagram of Slug's feelings, or something. It's good, I like it. Yes.8.0
14. January On Lake Street
This has more of what I like about Atmosphere (storytelling, good production, generally easy listening) and less of what I really hate about this album (aphorisms, cheesy/animal lyrics) so I'll give it one of the better grades.7.5
15. Let Me Know That You Know What You Want Now
The title is a bigger mouthful than baby birds, I can tell you that. This song is an excellent finale for the album, it's a lot stronger lyrically than the earlier stuff, but still not what I would call excellent: I don't understand the polar bear animal imagery, I don't think, and the whole message of mortality is a little tired. The production is, again, great. That's probably my takeaway from this album, the production was great and the rap was kind of a let down.7.0

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