I'm not really what you'd call a rap fan. Some of you, I know, are thinking, "Oh God! He reviewed a rap album. I'm skipping this." I urge that you hold on for a moment and realize that, if I do not consider myself a rap fan, then there must be something special about this group and album in order to capture my interest. That in mind, let me repeat, I'm not really what you'd call a rap fan. I did pick up "The Marshall Mathers LP" by Eminem when it was released, but my musical tastes were just coming into their own and all my friends loved it, so I figured I had to love it too. In Eminem's defense, I listened to it again recently and I still think it's a great record. But in general, my musical tastes have always leaned more to hard rock and heavy metal, and my interest in rap music has been very selective. The band, Atmosphere, is one of those few rap acts out that I really do enjoy. This is partially due to how Slug (aka, Sean Daley) flows with his lyrics, but more so on the down to earth, real to life stories that he chooses to tell. On The Family Sign you don't find a rapper degrading women, or singing about money or car rims, but rather one who focuses on telling stories about the relationships people experience.
A friend introduced me to a number of rap groups a few years ago. The most accessible of these for me was Atmosphere. Though I still haven't heard most of the material they've released, what I've heard has been great, honest music. So when I found out they'd released The Family Sign in 2011, I decided I should pick it up. Overall, this isn't an upbeat record, and it certainly wouldn't fit the role of a house party soundtrack. "The Last To Say" sets the mood early on, covering the difficult situation of an abusive household and the aftermath of the child that experiences it. "Became" immediately follows, about a friend who has gone missing in the woods and is being chased by a wolf. I was honestly nervous listening to this one, and it's got an unexpected ending that I think couldn't have been done better.
One thing I really appreciate about this album is how much of a group effort it is. Some rap groups release songs that take a piece from this musician, and another from this one, but Atmosphere is truly a band. If you take Slug's vocals out of these songs, I can safely say that you'd still have an album of instrumentals that, for the most part, stand on their own as great tracks. Nate, Ant, and Erick stir their respective talents in a mixing bowl and produce an organic, synergetic, platform for Slug to be poetic. And the album is, of course, filled to the brim with fantastic rhymes. I thought about pulling one out to share, but pulling out the musical rug from under them wouldn't be fair. Just take a listen to one of the more upbeat tracks on the album and see what I mean.
In addition, if you choose to get a hard copy of the album, it comes in a case that has a flip-out back stand. Now why, oh why, would you need to stand a record up? As it happens, the liner notes of the album come with the full lyrics, but on the opposite side contain seven different pictures that you can use as the front cover. They're beautifully embossed with a selected lyric, and while I've never felt the need to display them to the rest of my household, this gives you the opportunity! An unusual, but interesting, little bonus.
As I said to start, I'm not a huge fan of rap artists, but I find this is mostly due to the subject matter and less to how they go about their music. I appreciate the musical talent it takes to make an instrument sing, and the band certainly knows their way around. And while I'm a bigger fan of melodic singing, I can't help but respect (and, at times, become hypnotized) by the fluidity that some rappers spit out their rhymes. Slug is one of those whose flow I really find appealing, and the fact that he has a band backing him, rather than a soundbyte, just makes me find this album that much more enjoyable. If rap isn't for you, that's fine, but The Family Sign might make you
change your mind.
For more on Atmosphere:
Buy "The Family Sign" at iTunes | Amazon