I met Slug one day in Tennessee, at the autograph table at Bonnaroo. I was getting a Bonnaroo map autographed for my friend who was back home in Daley’s beloved Twin Cities. From the brief moment I was in contact with him, I discerned a couple of things which are relevant when talking about Atmosphere’s latest record, When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint That Shit Gold, which comes out tomorrow, but has been on sale for a brief minute at the finer indie hip hop stores.
The first is that he’s incredibly personable. Helping him out with this was the fact the line of people waiting for autographs was the mellowest I’d seen, so fans had a second to say what they had to say. Every other autograph table I’ve been to was a variant on that scene from The Christmas Story when Ralphie is on line to talk to Santa. You’re more apt to hear “NEXT!” than anything personal. A recent issue of XLR8R magazine had an interview with Atmosphere where he explains a method of writing lyrics similar to (final movie reference, I promise) that scene in Wonder Boys where Michael Douglas and Robert Downey Jr. are sitting in the bar drumming up backgrounds for random barflies.
It turns out that about 80% of the songs on the album are based off of people Slug saw from a bench next to a Minneapolis intersection (whose location was unspecified, but outside of the place he grabbed his morning coffee). For an artist who’s been so damn introspective you think he might get lost inside his own carotid artery, it’s nice that he can extricate himself, at least on the most outer level, as each of the songs finds Slug’s sympathies with these commuters explored in one way or another. The second single, “Guarantees,” finds Slug’s voice partnered with a riffing guitar as he unfurls a Sobotka-esque tale of the fall of a middle class family, something he has not only seen at the stop light, but something he lived in his broken household as a kid. The song back and forths it’s way between being subdued and teetering on the verge of furious.
The second thing I remember about seeing Atmosphere in Tennessee is from the performance, some fans from Minneapolis who had a giant cardboard sign that said, well, MINNEAPOLIS, and it also had the highway names and distances and such. This adulation showed me that there are a fair bunch of Minnesnowtans really do believe that Daley represents them. And for a rapper who takes pride in his region, there’s not much more to ask.
Except of course that they make a good album. Some bullet points – hey, the lazy man’s paragraphs! – about the album:
– “In Her Music Box” is a really oddly named song. I like the song, but wish I could talk about it without saying the title.
– Some don’t like the new “singing” that Slug does on the album. I’m not one of them. It works for me. Maybe because I heard “Sunshine” back in the summer, when they closed their set at Rock The Bells with it. Further: I think “Sunshine” might have been an album quality track, not just an EP song.
– The Bonus DVD is basically 45 minutes from a concert, so it’s well worth the extra clams to get the deluxe edition.
– Tunde of TVOTR’s cameo on “Your Glasshouse” is so similar to the rest of his vocals that it’s surprising to hear him on an Atmosphere record. At the same time, it’s great to hear him doing his thing. I mean, the guy has a voice. For an example from another song with the word ‘house’ in it, see “Playhouses,” from Return To Cookie Mountain.
– The other cameos that rock critics will be all over and probably getting a lot of them to listen if they weren’t up on Atmosphere, is Tom Waits beatboxing on “The Waitress.” The beatboxing is the backbeat for the song, and it’s subtle enough to miss the first time but once you know it’s there, it’s damn good enough to admire.
Finally, I have to say that this might be Slug and Ant’s “big” record. I’m not sure. I don’t know if they know, but this one has legs to it.