Atmosphere: The Family Sign

Atmosphere: The Family Sign
I review a lot of albums and because I only review physical copies of CDs, I am used to reviewing burned CDs or CDs in slip cases. So when a CD comes in its full packaging I get a little excited but especially when its packaging is as elaborate and as beautiful as Atmosphere‘s seventh studio album, The Family Sign.
The album is packaged like a picture frame with the back cover folding out so that the CD can rest safely on your mantle. When you slip out the front cover, you can choose any of seven front covers that depict images that seem straight Killer of Sheep. But never being one to judge a book by its cover, I vowed to not let the gorgeous packing sway my opinion.
My opinion of Atmosphere has never been particularly high. I love hip hop and I do not hate backpack rappers but Atmosphere’s emotional rap has always just rubbed me as an affront to the genre; hip hop is not supposed to be as whiny as Atmosphere often sounded to me. Over his last few album, Slug has tried to convert himself from heartfelt poet to wise-cracking smart ass but The Family Sign seems to signal a change back to his old emotional ways.
As hinted in the album title, Slug is no longer a hormonal teenager; now he has grown man problems. The Family Sign revolves a lot around family. “She’s Just Enough” is about Slug doing whatever his lover wants; it is like the hip hop version of NOFX‘ “Whatever Didi Wants.” “Bad Bad Daddy” is about poor parenting and “The Last to Say” is about spousal abuse.
The more mature subject matter also comes with a more mature sound. Traditionally all music has been produced by Ant but the group welcomes in keyboardist Erick Anderson and guitarist Nate Collis. The additional instruments make for an interesting dynamic in the group. When I heard “Ain’t Nobody”, I was sure it must be sampling The Doors; the steady piano line and snaky guitars have the Doors’ signature sound but the song is completely written and produced by Atmosphere. Other tracks like “Millennium Dodo” sounds like the instrumental from Geto Boys‘ “Mind Playing Tricks on Me.”
The live sound, the beautiful packaging, and the mature lyrics altogether add up to a very pointed release but getting back into the emotional lyrical game might be a mistake. The lyrical content leads to a lot of mediocre songs that sound more like deep cuts from a Fort Minor album than Atmosphere from the last several years. The Family Sign ends up feeling fairly weak.
Rating: 6.7/10
MP3: Atmosphere “Ain’t Nobody”
Buy: iTunes or Amazon