Atmosphere | When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint That Shit Gold (Rhymesayers)

cd_atmosphere.jpgSlug brings his best, even if it is for only half an album.





It has been over a decade since the Minneapolis duo Atmosphere broke out as one of the Midwest’s most popular indie hip-hop acts. Easily the highest profiled (and most distanced) member of the short-lived rap group Deep Puddle Dynamics, Slug brings his best, even if it is for only half an album.

Atmosphere’s second studio within a year, When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint That Shit Gold, is easiest to describe as 15 vignettes of urban bottom dwellers. Pain, dysfunction and poor choices pepper the lives brought into being within one of the more interesting releases of 2008. Slug maintains his prowess as one of hip-hop’s top storytellers one minute, then stumbles the next. "Dreamer" comes off early as a standout track, but rounding the last corner is "Wild Wild Horses," feeling much the same. This remorseful sameness may not bother fans or first-time listeners, but those with a casual interest may find it hard to overlook when similar albums like Aesop Rock’s Labor Days did it better back in 2001.

Tracks range from live instrumentation to chewy synths, all backed by percussion mixed so lively that at times its hard to tell if its the real deal or a programmed drum machine. "The Waitress" ends up being one of the strongest arguments for studio musicians in an increasingly elitist genre; a jazzy flute flows through the story of a homeless man’s relationship with a strict diner waitress like a set piece given not a second thought. Ant’s contemporary production is careful to not step on the toes of Slug’s delivery, fully aware that anything busier would be too much. Even then, there are times where an errant instrument finds itself sticking out, but it’s nothing that invalidates the effort as a whole.

When Life Gives You Lemons could have easily been another Sad Clown Bad EP, and in some ways it is. While tracks like "You" and "Yesterday" are playlist no-brainers, one can’t help but feel that conceptually the album is lacking in variety and scope. It’s a good book, you’ve just read it before. B- | Bryan J. Sutter

RIYL: Sage Francis, Aesop Rock

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