Atmosphere - To All My Friends, Blood Makes the Blade Holy: The Atmosphere EPs
Record Label: Rhymesayers Entertainment
Release Date: September 7th, 2010
Sean Daley and Anthony Davis, also known as Slug and Ant respectively, have definitely found their spot in today's hip-hop scene. Underground or mainstream, group or solo artist, nobody comes close to matching the sheer levels of emotion and personality Atmosphere pack into each release. Slug formed Atmosphere with his good friend John Turner (Spawn) in 1993, and the group went through various incarnations until Slug settled down with Ant as the two central members. With Slug's deeply personal lyrics and Ant's unique production style it was apparent they found a winning formula, and they've done a great job sticking to what they know throughout the years.
Their last full-length album When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint That Shit Gold dropped more than two years ago, but the duo has done a great job of getting new material to their fans in a timely manner with the release of the free EP Leak at Will in mid-2009. While they still haven't revealed any info on their next album, Atmosphere recently released a double EP titled To All My Friends, Blood Makes the Blood Holy: The Atmosphere EPs full of brand new tracks. While both EPs have enough songs to constitute a whole album when placed back to back, does the quality match up to an actual full-length release?
It opens rather awkwardly with “Until the Nipples Gone.” While the song eventually catches its rhythm, the beginning lead in and the way Slug is introduced on vocals feels off somehow. One thing this song does great is depth. Thanks to Ant's marvelous production, Slug's vocals and the beat behind them feel like they have weight and exist as separate entities in a wide-open musical arena. This interesting sonic landscape makes up for the odd beginning and makes this track an intriguing intro.
Two almost parable-like tracks follow, one about a friend of Slug's who became involved in dealing cocaine (“The Major Leagues”) and another detailing how good and bad events are sometimes switched and misunderstood (“Scalp”). Both songs are carried by despondent piano melodies, and Slug's lyrics are given an almost bittersweet quality by Ant's production. This one-two punch of melancholy and nostalgia makes the first half of this release incredibly heavy in comparison to the remaining tracks.
The mood is lifted a bit with “The Best Day” both lyrically and musically. The piano melody sounds like it belongs in the latest Apple commercial and is matched up with funky bass and guitar riffs. Slug details three frustrating situations and offers hope to anyone stuck in those positions. “Every day can't be the best day,” he admits, but a good day is coming if you persevere. I was happy to hear Atmosphere take another step in a more upbeat direction and it really helps this song stand out.
That being said, To All My Friends still carries a fair amount of serious subject matter. “Americareful” details two stories of patients lost within the USA's healthcare system laid atop a paranoid mix of calliope and high-pitched guitar scales. “The Loser Wins” finds Slug preaching on cutting bad friends loose, and that losing them is actually winning. Despite the lyrics, Ant's production on this song is fun and jumping, with the signature guitar riffs we've come to know and love. Myspace, Facebook, and other social networking sites are the target of the track “Commodities.” Slug puts down these sites as promoters of false identities over heavily distorted and grungy beats. In his reasoning, these sites give people with small personalities and huge egos too large of a forum and only treat people as human commodities.
Slug and Ant definitely saved the best for last when arranging the songs on To All My Friends. “The Number None” is old-school Atmosphere, combining genius production and a story about a girl. This formula creates a very personal, easily entertaining song and it's what Atmosphere do best. It's very similar to a track from their EP Sad Clown Bad Summer 9 called “The Number One” in terms of lyrical content, and I'm glad to see them return to their roots. While I'm happy with their recent turn in more diverse lyrics, it's always nice to see a throwback every now and then.
The last two tracks are songs that were already released to promote the album. “Freefallin'” and “To All My Friends” are both incredibly humble and sincere. The former is driven mostly by a steady bass line, but they both carry a very similar melody. Dealing with issues like finding your own voice and finding happiness in the little things in life, these two tracks continue the hopeful nature of “The Best Day” without becoming too saccharine in their delivery.
While this release is categorized as a double EP, there's no argument that this is anything but classic Atmosphere. The only problem is little progress is really made in their sound or lyrical content. Slug raps about Slug over guitar riffs that draw inspiration from various other genres, such as jazz and funk. Fans of the group will find nothing to complain about, and newcomers won't be overwhelmed if they are just jumping in. The new hopeful turn Atmosphere showcase in this album tends to be dragged down by the heavier tracks, but they definitely remain standouts in an already fantastic release. So, which direction will they take from this EP to their next full-length? It doesn't matter. Both sides of Atmosphere's nature are entertaining and genuine in their own way and I can't wait to see how they carry on into the future.
This is a fuckin great release. I can't wait to catch the guys at the end of Nov at First Ave.
I'd have to say that "Hope" is one of my favorite tracks. As for the "progression" argument, I'm not ready for a new shift in Atmosphere's sound just yet. I think Ant's production on this release and When Life Gives You Lemons is some of the best stuff they have ever put out. This is going to be an epic tour as well.