Album of the Week: Atmosphere, 'Fishing Blues'

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Atmosphere, 'Fishing Blues'
Atmosphere, 'Fishing Blues' (Rhymesayers)

Because I'm a longtime fan and they're local hip-hop heroes, it's tempting to greet a new Atmosphere album, the ninth in 18 years, with a sigh of relief. As if whatever it sounds like matters less than the fact that they're still here, if not thriving, surviving. It's a tough game to be in. Just try to think of any bands or artists who have had such a good consistent run — it's hard!

On top of all that, I feel myself thinking: Atmosphere should get credit for leading the most successful Indie Hip Hop Record label in the country, RhymeSayers; for headlining the biggest hip hop festival, Soundest; and for curating a brilliant all-Minnesota lineup in a couple of weeks at Red Rocks in Colorado, with Brother Ali, Lizzo and Lifter Puller also on the bill!

BUT … what does the album Fishing Blues actually sound like? Is it any good?

The day before it came out last week, SPIN magazine gave Fishing Blues a 4/10, saying it was Atmosphere's worst record yet. Four is a little harsh, but ranking Fishing Blues at the bottom of their own personal pile might not be an exaggeration. But then, one of them has to be on the bottom, and the assertion suggests Atmosphere haven't made a bad album before! If this one was shorter than its 18 tracks, I think it would gain more kudos; 18 is a lot for one sitting, and considering that Atmosphere often release EPs and one-off collaborations, it's tough to justify why all these songs need to be here. Do all carry the theme of the album? What holds it together as one cohesive work?

Well, Ant's production definitely helps; he makes key editing decisions to bookend the piece and interesting segues between songs. The spare, atmospheric (sic!) grounding beats for Slug tend to share qualities that make it sound like a continuous soundtrack. I know Ant's a big fan of spaghetti westerns, and some of the musical phrases echo that, but he might also be a Star Wars geek or just influenced by the resurgence of interest in that filmic franchise, because there are several bleeps and blips that sound like electronic characters giggling in the background.

And what do we learn about Slug's life this time around? Well, his marriage isn't always a bed of roses; he may have gotten arrested abroad; his oldest son doesn't answer his phone, and on the key track, No. 7, "Next to You," he's more confessional than ever … (No spoiler here though!) which is saying a lot from one of the founding fathers of "Emo-rap."

But all in all, he sounds happy, not envious of anyone else's life! And I like to cast Slug as the Step Uncle rather than Father of anything. He's the one who the adult relatives consider evil, but who has a genuine heart and really cares about the kids, his and the ones he can still influence through his work.

Fishing has an unheralded role to play in musical history. Locally, Bob Stinson of The Replacements was fond of sitting at Lake Calhoun with a rod and reel; a bench marks his spot. A year ago, our boss Jim McGuinn took Alabama Shakes fishing when they had a day off here, and Jon Lurie famously lured such notables as Tom Waits into a fishing boat for a series of short films. But what does the title refer to in the case of Atmosphere's record? One song mentions a tackle box, but without much weight. Is it a suggestion that, as Slug also says here, they didn't think they'd still be alive at this age, hadn't planned on how to handle it. and perhaps think they should take up fishing and leave the grind of the road to someone younger — hence the blues?!

As the first single "Ringo" says, everyone loves to watch a star fall from grace; maybe Slug's just looking for a graceful way to bow out. Like one of the guests — along with DOOM, Dem Atlas, Kool Keith and I.B.E. — Aesop Rock says on his latest, excellent, album Impossible Kid, "bin a lot of years!"

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  • Atmosphere announce 'Fishing Blues' album, debut single Slug stopped by The Current's <em>Oake and Riley in the Morning</em> to announce a new Atmosphere album and to debut "Ringo," its lead single.
  • Atmosphere perform live in The Current studio Between yesterday's announcement of their big gig at TCF Bank Stadium opening for electronic rockers Imagine Dragons as a part of the 2014 MLB All-Star Game weekend and their late night performance on <em>Conan</em> this Thursday, June 19, Atmosphere (Slug, Ant and Plain Ole Bill) stopped by The Current studios to play a few songs off the new <em>Southsiders</em> record and chatted with Mary Lucia.
  • Atmosphere perform "Say Shh" at First Avenue Watch Slug, Ant and DJ Plain Ole Bill kick off their incredible 80 minute set from First Avenue with the now-famous song that kicked off The Current's first radio broadcast in 2005.
  • Atmosphere performs live in The Current studio Local hip-hop bon vivant, Slug, has become a regular visitor to The Current studios. On his most recent trip he's joined by the rest of the band to discuss their music videos, letting go of some artistic control and building a musical community in Minnesota.
  • Atmosphere performs in The Current studios Rapper Slug from Atmosphere thinks that he might be becoming better at promoting records than making records. The new full-length album, "When Life Gives You Lemons..." comes out April 22, 2008 after a plethora of EPs and an internet-only album have released within the past year.
  • Atmosphere performs in studio Slug of Atmosphere joined Mary Lucia in the Current studios to perform songs from his latest album, You Can't Imagine How Much Fun We're Having, that is once again putting Atmosphere and local hip hop label Rhymesayers at the forefront of the hip hop scene.

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