It has only been a short while since Atmosphere dropped their laid-back EP To All My Friends… to shorten the waiting period for their seventh longplayer. Now it is here. Producer Ant and rapper Slug used the past seven months to change their musical direction – on the production level and regarding to content. The Family Sign is the most honest, personal and grown-up piece of work the group from Minneapolis has put out to this date. »When we made the EP’s«, says Slug, »we were aiming for short length projects that were fun to write and record.Â When we sat down to write and record the family sign, we were a lot more focused and I guess we were more serious.« The result is an album on which Slug seems to reveal much more of his personality than ever before. The 38-year old has always told his listeners stories. Stories about him, friends, people he had met and life in general. But in many cases, he only created the characters in his songs to transport a message. »On all of our albums, some characters are fiction and focused on making a statement. Overall they are all focused on communicating whatever is on my mind.« On The Family Sign it seems, every story has its offspring in reality, everything, Slug tells us, sounds real. And since we are talking about »telling stories«: It is starting to get almost eerie how smooth and with what immaculate sense of style the MC leads us through his songs. Especially now as the looseness regarding the content is gone and Slug talks about more serious issues, entertaining turns to thrilling storytelling. The second song, The Last To Say, not involving more than a little piano and guitar, deals with domestic violence; and the third song Became is so suspenseful it is almost breathtaking.
»I think I slowly realized that I can’t be an idiot forever. Gotta get real or die from whiskey poisoning. I chose to get real.« The Entertainer grows up
Alltogether The Family Sign is not really about the fun parts of life. Instead, it is about family issues, letting go false friends, appreciating the real ones, life and death. Being asked, if the tragic and unexpected death of friend and MC colleague Michael Larsen (known as Eyedea) has influenced the work on the album, Slug needs to reflect: »Probably more than I even yet realize.« The overall question, why the album is so serious and less playful than the ones before, Slug answers like this: »I think I slowly realized that I can’t be an idiot forever. Gotta get real or die from whiskey poisoning. I chose to get real.«
But not only on the content side things get more serious. Ant has always liked the use of a piano or guitars in his instrumentals and the last projects have even been recorded with a live-band, but now The Family Sign even goes one step further. Nate Collis playing the guitar and Erick Anderson at the piano have co-produced the entire album and have thereby created a blues record. Of course that fits the overall agenda just fine but some people might miss some good vibrations.
Combining genres like Blues and Hip Hop can work (as for example Sage Francis has proven) and the roots of those genres may not lie too far apart from each other but the sound that is being created might not be loved by everyone. However, for those who can not relate to that kind of sound the future holds interesting developments, as Slug tells us: †žThe music we’ve been working on for the next album is quite waltzy!«