Atmosphere: The Family Sign Review (Four Takes)
It can be difficult to gain a balanced perspective on an album after reading a single summary of the music. Bias can tilt a review, as can personal taste, history and just about everything else that is unique to the person writing it. So in an effort to offer an expanded perspective in such a medium, here are Four reactions, Four impressions, Four Takes on The Family Sign by Atmopshere.
Since the years after their last effort, “When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint That Shit Gold,” Slug, ANT and company have honed their craft fully in making more tunes that revolve around stories, and there’s a reasoning behind that; Slug has been a good writer since the days of Lucy Ford, and their newest effort, The Family Sign, revolves more around the solemn and well-told stories that Slug has managed to weave around ANT’s production. Running the gamut of genres across the album from funk, new-wave, soul and country, The Family Sign is not a traditional rap record, rather its a rap record for the grown and aged, those who recollect a time when the tales Slug told such as “The Woman With The Tattooed Hands,” and managed to merge with very solemn, yet dignified production. The description thrown around here fits the mold of grown-ass-man rap tunes that weave tales of abuse (“The Last To Say,” “Just For Show”), and a life of settling down (“She’s Enough”). And there are many others, such as “Became” which could be the darker kin to “Painting,” and traces of braggadocio such as the grungy “Bad Bad Daddy,” and the doo-wop stylings on “Ain’t Nobody.” With every record, Atmosphere gets better and better at their craft, and The Famly Sign can be chalked up as yet another success.
Mike Watton (Haunted House)
Where to begin? “Family Sign,” the new effort from Atmosphere, should have just been titled “CC Club Problems,” and really, it’s everyone’s problem. Bringing Death Cab For Cutie and Limp Bizkit together is just an awful, awful idea. Kicking Bruce Hornsby out of the studio? That would have been a fantastic idea. This is a rock album that doesn’t rock in any way, and the rapping, lyrically speaking, is barely worthy of an open mic poetry night. Listen to the chorus of “Bad Bad Daddy,” and try to make an argument that it somehow has something over Soulja Boy or any other top 40 rapper. It’s doesn’t. It’s much worse. Not talking about money and being “real” does not make good hip hop, or any other kind of music. Sure, it’s not Atmosphere’s fault that many people seem to think otherwise. And just looking at flow, Slug can still rap. He’s never been at the top of hip hop in that department, but he’s certainly far from the worst. I’m working to find the bright side. Please don’t kill me, Minnesota. Um, let’s see. The melody of album opener “My Key” isn’t terrible. But face it: If Creed had re-branded themselves a rap crew in an attempt to make a comeback, they would have made songs that sound exactly like “Something So.” They may have even done it better. That’s how insipid this stuff is.
Michael Herriges (Midwest Broadcast)
Twin Cities indie rap champions Atmosphere are back with their first full-length release since 2008’s commercial breakout Lemons. But if you are expecting The Family Sign to pick up where the band left off with Lemons — or even the 2010 double EP release To All My Friends… — you would be wrong.
The Family Sign is a largely somber affair, Atmosphere’s most mature album yet. Absent lyrically are Slug’s sense of humor, self-pity, or sarcasm. In their place is a feeling of perspective that comes with age and experience. Slug is still a technically gifted rapper; that won’t ever change. What is different is that he has deliberately assumed the role of narrator instead of being the focal point of his stories. These tales touch on familiar themes of love and loss. The best ones evoke an emotional response that all listeners can relate to (“The Last To Say,” “She’s Enough”), while on other tracks Slug feels too lost in the story to reach a clear resolution (“Beware,” “Your Name Here”).
Sonically, The Family Sign relies too heavily on the slow, doleful chord progressions of keyboardist Erick Anderson. Slug’s sung raps and choruses are not his strong suit, and Ant’s drum programming often rides a tedious and unchallenging kick-snare-kick-snare pattern. The songs where the band switches up the tempo and deviates from this formula (“She’s Enough,” “Millenium Dodo,” “My Notes”) are the catchiest and contain the most replay value.
The Family Sign is an intimate album that takes a few spins to warm up to. Once you accustom to the sound it can be beautifully melodic, insightful, and an overall enjoyable listen. This long into Atmosphere’s career, they continue to grow. They might not get everything perfect in the process, but maybe we love them all the more just for trying. The Family Sign is definitely not the best release in Atmosphere’s oeuvre, but it is certainly another fine addition.
Jon Behm (Reviler)
On the third to last track on Atmosphere’s new record, Slug raps that “it aint that hard to sing a sad song.” This is the attitude the emcee seems to have taken over the course of the album, which contains the rapper’s weakest songwriting to date. It’s not just that Slug has lost the rakish attitude of his “sad clown” persona (which seems to be the consensus in the reviews I have read). The real issue is he also seems to have relinquished his strongest weapon, his golden tongue. The lyrics of The Family Sign sound uninspired – as if many of them were included for the sake of a rhyme rather than the meaning behind it.
Even at his most depressing (of which he is at throughout Family) Slug has the ability to be a tremendous emcee. Just listen to the bewildered anger of 2005’s decidedly melancholy track “That Night,” in which he channels emotion into poignant, gripping lyricism. That songwriting ability just isn’t as present here. There are still a few turns of phrase that demonstrate the talent isn’t extinguished – it just isn’t a full, roaring blaze it seemed to be before. Ant’s production is good though and I love Nate Collis’s classical guitar accompaniments. Hopefully this is just a bump in the road for Atmosphere’s Slug.
Writer / co-founder