Friday, August 12, 2016

Atmosphere - Fishing Blues Review

As the newest generation pushed into the latest technology head-on, immediately changing how we perceive the importance of music through the Internet, many seminal underground acts were left in the dust as the entire semblance of their being collapsed when everything became available to the masses. No Hip-Hop artist representing the underappreciated 2000's underground still releasing music today is doing it under the same pretenses. Some, like DOOM, have struggled to get acquainted with the new age, while others, like El-P, have taken the Internet in stride. However, through all the blunderbuss, a few acts, for reasons that don't escape their love of music, have continued churning out albums since the turn of the century. A pivotal name comes to mind; Atmosphere. Continued proprietors of Minneapolis' cult-like Hip-Hop scene, the duo of Slug and Ant have just dropped their eighth LP since 1997. Direct storytelling and beefy beats help to subside the substantial filler and historically bad rollout for this album. Atmosphere doesn't reinvent the wheel or leap to any new territory here, but with a rejuvenated tenacity in mind, Fishing Blues finds the group at their best since 2008's When Life Gives You Lemons, despite still having their flaws.

Much of the appeal has to do with their calm sense of worth. In recent years, even including this one that saw a litany of duds, Atmosphere has tried to be something else without the actual skills to do so. Not a knock on Slug or Ant, but these two have a refined appeal, something many of their fans will gladly admit. Clearly not an evolutionary group, the duo has been making, more or less, the same music since they began. This has allowed their fans to get closer, more intimate, but unfortunately turned the cold shoulder on anyone else. In Hip-Hop's grand scheme, they are incredibly generic, abiding by ordinary song structures time and time again. But, as with anything else, you do something similar enough times and you'll get good at it. Fishing Blues has those moments. Opener 'Like A Fire' starts out on the right foot, with a vocal chopped beat that harmonizes with Slug's tenacious verses. Looking back, it's clearly one of Fishing Blues' best. Some other standouts, like 'Seismic Waves' or 'Anybody That I've Known,' also work to intertwine Slug's simple but poignant storytelling with Ant's simple but effective production.

And, as has been the case since 1997, is when Atmosphere are at their best. Think of their highest moments and you'll always find interesting cinematic gotcha's or showcases of how to formulate an indelible beat with what little you have. Sometimes this backfires though, resulting in cases like the painful 'Next To You.' Seeing deM atlaS, once a promising figure to continue Minnesota's legacy, sing about Slug masturbating next to his wife is just, well, yeah. Disregarding talents, Slug isn't DOOM, and the cartoon persona the latter surrounds himself in makes his masturbatory tale on 'Kookies' kooky, not creepy. For 18 tracks, I suppose it's a relief to only have one to quarantine. Other risks, like Slug's attempt to speak on police brutality on 'Pure Evil' or the circus anthem 'Ringo,' don't falter in nearly the same fashion, and in some cases actually excel by staying committed to their topic. However, as far as risks go, we must bring DOOM back into the fold, because, in some bizarre alternate universe, 'When The Lights Go Out' is an Atmosphere track, and one that thrives on creativity. Seriously, hats off to Ant for fine-tuning that conniving DOOM aesthetic, allowing the emcee to excel in the same world as his Viktor Vaughn character.

As is evident, Fishing Blues' heights come when solid conceptual ideas match with equal success on the boards. That's why it's a damn shame this LP is 18 tracks long, as the bulk of the back half is littered with unflattering filler. Atmosphere has lived on the backs of its fans, so it makes sense that the giving group consistently fails to install some quality control. In the critical sense, the album falters thanks to tracks like 'No Biggie,' 'Everything,' and 'Won't Look Back' that reek of a boring scent. They're tedious and drag Fishing Blues down so much that justified help from Aesop Rock and The Grouch can't save it. There's times on the LP when they're inspired, and then others that give off the feeling they're simply going through the rituals. Those aforementioned flubs, and a few others, reveal Atmosphere's textbook template, seemingly as a way to beef up the tracklist. And while 'Still Be Here' and 'A Long Hello' aren't exclamatory as final tracks, choosing instead to inspect the past while analyzing the future, they do bring Slug back full circle to why he's here rapping in the first place.

As a proponent of creativity and evolution, Atmosphere never transitioned for me when I made mine in the musical world. They, along with a handful of other underground acts, kickstarted my teenage years of Hip-Hop intrigue, but as I began to branch out their worth felt diminished. It's not so much that Fishing Blues is an expected disappointment, but more that, based on evidence contained within, it could've been something great. In the long rollout for the LP, Atmosphere dropped over half a dozen tracks, which just so happened to be some of their worst to date. None of them, thankfully, appeared here. But the restraint they showed there should've gone further. I don't expect a duo releasing music for two decades to put out 18 amazing tracks, and neither should they. Fishing Blues would've been memorable at a dozen, but thanks to the duo's selflessness, a bloated project held back their next step. Atmosphere doesn't need to evolve, they're comfortable in the role they've provided. What they need to do is limit themselves, because the value of Slug's stories and Ant's Boom Bap is still there.

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