Minneapolis, MN duo Atmosphere made their name matching MC Slug's sardonic introspection with producer Ant's sampled breaks. But the group's 2008 record, When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint that Shit Gold, broke with tradition, as Slug wrote closely observed tales about his surroundings over live instrumentation. Atmosphere's sixth album follows this formula, pairing Slug's acerbic, empathetic raps with Ant's beats and a four-piece band. The Family Sign explores close relationships and a range of emotions over its 12 tracks. "She's Enough" offers a spot of levity on a largely dark release; it's a funny, warm dedication to his wifey over Neptunes-esque organ fuzz. Though the live backing occasionally dips into bar band blandness, the shortcomings are forgotten when Slug locks into a groove and his sharp storytelling shines through. His tale-spinning talent is never clearer than on "Your Name Here," which re-enacts an unwanted run-in with an old friend. Slug employs an unnerving wolf allegory on "Become" to lambaste an ex over creeping piano and slow-building strings. The live band also take the group in unexpected, but appreciated, directions: "Ain't Nobody" weaves Slug's barstool confessional around spaghetti western guitar twang and melodica, while the road narrative of "Millennium Dodo" is anchored by spacey, spy movie guitar. "My Notes" ends the album on an optimistic note, with Slug promising to "stand on top of this box of soap" for as long as he can still hit the notes. The Family Sign is proof that 20 years deep in the rap game, Atmosphere still have something to say.
How has your music changed since you started touring as a band?
There was a time where all of our songs, I feel like we could put them into four different buckets, like the type of beats I get to write to. Whereas now I feel like we've raised the number of buckets because we expanded the different influences these guys bring to the table. For instance, on the new record, the first song ["My Key"] reminds me of Mazzy Star. There is no way me and Anthony could have ever made a song that reminds me of Mazzy Star.
This album has a lot of metaphorical songs. How do you approach writing a concept song versus a guest verse?
I'm not big on bragging on my records anymore; I still do it, but I tuck them inside of metaphors. There's a song on the new record called "Bad Bad Daddy" that sounds like it's a song about child neglect and being a bad dad. So that song, to me, is about looking at the other indie rappers that I literally gave birth to and being disappointed and embarrassed by them. I needed a better way to say, "I'm better than you." I can't just fucking say, "I'm better than you" anymore! (Rhymesayers)