Monday, September 13, 2010

EP Review: Atmosphere - To All My friends, Blood Makes The Blade Holy

Slug and Ant have been working together since the mid-late 90's and they've been a staple in the underground hip-hop scene ever-since. Where you stand with Atmosphere definitely depends on when you got into them, if you've fallowed the group from the early days you most likely think that their new shit is...shit...and if you started off with the more widely popular When Life Gives You Lemons... you probably enjoy Atmosphere and think their new the shit! (see what I did there?) Anyways, I fall really under neither of those options, call it a stubborn hipster attitude or plain laziness, but I never felt the need to get into Atmosphere...mainly because it felt like everyone else had that covered. So I kinda feel I'm perfectly in line with this review, no bias anywhere.

Rhymesayers Entertainment is a label I know and love pretty thoroughly, having signed some of my favorite hip-hop artists like Brother Ali, P.O.S., Eyedea & Abilities, and Mac Lethal, so I definitely knew what to expect from Minnesota rap label. Atmosphere's new EP actually holds little surprise to me, but in a good way. The beats are almost unsurprisingly good, and the lyrics are almost unsurprisingly smart and deep. The EP opens with the angry "Until The Nipple's Gone" which holds a nice dark tone with its driving sound, allowing the heavier guitars and Slugs' in-your-face flow take control of the song, it definitely is an interesting way to start up the EP, as to wether or not this is news to Atmosphere fans, I have no clue. You can definitely feel the R&B tone Ant brought from his work with Brother Ali on Us, there's plenty of soulful electric guitar and smooth piano flowing about. "Scalp" is definitely one of the more recognizable tracks on the EP, with Slug rapping back-and-forth with himself in hypothetical conversation while a jamming bluesy guitar plucks along to the deep and low piano. There's some elements in these songs that feel totally Rhymesayers, and other bits that feel purely Atmosphere least to this Atmosphere virgin.

"The Best Day" is my favorite so far in the album, being up-beat while staying realistic with the chorus line "That's why we are trying to make love and get paid, take the good with the bad and let's play" The simple piano and soulful guitar return and feel right at home in the song, being perfect for a drive around town or for listening with friends and a few beers. "Commodities" feels like one of the few duds on the 12 track EP, being too heavy not only in guitar noise but also in lyrical flow. It might be a bias on my part but I really dislike Hip-Hop lyrics that feel too message conscious and hell bent on telling us how fucked up society is...I already know that shit.

For me personally, Atmosphere works best on the new album when the songs feel more light-hearted yet still bleakly un-optimistic, like the last three tracks do. "The Number None", "Freefallin", and "To All My Friends" focus in on the story driven flow that I've been warned about, but I really don't mind when they sound this jammingly sunny. I can easily see myself playing a few of these songs the next night I stay up late helping my girlfriend with her studies or the next time I lay back on a sunday afternoon, the songs are just so perfectly serene without feeling forced into a gimmicky chill-out zone.

The new Atmosphere EP reminds me in some ways to the new Roots album, it's enjoyably light in the beats and song structure, yet deep and message conscious and dark in lyrical content. It's a nice way to hear hip-hop, it doesn't totally stand-out and probably won't garner the desired praise from the fans whole-heartedly, but they will definitely be okay with it all. The main places where this EP fails is when it tries too hard to pull the listener down into the grimy details of the lives around us, without allowing there to be the light glimmer of a fun piano beat or the cool breeze of a summery guitar to shelter us from the anger we are all aware of. It's the same way that I'm willing to hear the bad shit about the government and society, as long as I hear it from Stephen Colbert, I'm able to walk away smiling and shaking my head. That's what Atmosphere captures at various times in the new EP, and when that happens, the EP feels truly impressive.

EP Rating: 7.5/10
-Matt Galey

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