Album Review: Atmosphere - The Family Sign

by David Campbell

The Family Sign is Atmosphere's 7th official studio album and the group's first in over two years. It is also the second collaboration between co-founders Slug and Ant, and guitarist Nate Collis and keyboardist Erick Anderson, (who've been members of the Atmosphere live band since 2005).

The album is a fourteen-part essay on some of life's most challenging interpersonal issues, and certainly Atmosphere's most personal and intimate to date. The Family Sign finds Slug and co. making great use of the additional players to access previously uncharted sonic realms. When coupled with the complex themes, the result is a much more sophisticated and mature Atmosphere record than its predecessors. In short, The Family Sign is a great leap forward artistically.

The first thing you notice about this album is the complete absence of the old soul sample-based beats and grooves that have long been the cornerstone of Ant's production. They've dabbled in this manner of song construction as far back as When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint That Shit Gold — and possibly earlier — this is the first time that an Atmosphere album is heard as a cohesive new whole. They have completed the metamorphosis and become a band. Or a band with a DJ ... with a drum machine ... and no drummer. You get the idea. The cost of this stylistic change is the banging beats that provoke hands in the air and ass shaking (though there's no shortage of that in group's catalog). The payout is access to whole new world of sonic possibility of what Atmosphere can be.

Next you'll notice a change in Slug. The smart-ass, bar fly who spends his time stealing your girl and rocking crowds with his superior rap abilities (WAY better than yours) is completely gone, and in his place, is Slug the man. It's a natural progression for a guy who's recently married, had a baby, and is eyeball to eyeball with his 40's. But make no mistake, The Family Sign is not the birth of Slug-lite. As an emcee, he has never shied away from the commenting on humanity's more complicated issues. In fact, it could be said that artistically it's his bread and butter. With The Family Sign he continues this tradition but from a new viewpoint; that of a man secure with himself, his career, his relationships, and his place in our world. The Slug persona feels like it's gone and speaking in its place is Sean Daley.

Thematically, the heavy stuff is there: the abusive father, failing friendships, and the needy ex-lover all get time on this album. There's even a charming love letter to his new baby mama. But it's the depth and intimacy with which these subjects are addressed, both lyrically and sonically, that set The Family Sign apart from its predecessors and secure its place in the catalog as a great leap forward.