Atmosphere
When Life Gives You Lemons...


4.5
superb

Review

by David James Young USER (181 Reviews)
May 19th, 2008 | 331 replies | 71,547 views


Release Date: 2008 | Tracklist

Review Summary: You Can't Imagine How Much Fun We're Not Having...

13 of 16 thought this review was well written

You can argue if you wish, but it would only be delaying the inevitable outcome- times are bad for hip-hop. What else would make a “legend of the game” such as Nas pen a song titled “Hip-Hop Is Dead”? What else could possibly explain “music” such as Soulja Boy, Flo Rida, Dem Franchise Boyz and countless other crunktacular illiterates storming the charts, clubs and airwaves? What else could explain the total lack of any hip-hop with substance getting any mainstream attention (save for Kanye and maybe Lupe Fiasco)? It’s times like these that an album must come along and defy the odds, and it appears that 2008’s saving grace has come in the shape of Atmosphere’s latest, with the smirk-inducing title of When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint That *** Gold.

Of course, Atmosphere are no newcomers to hip-hop, having been around since the early nineties. It has only been in recent years, however, that the duo (MC Slug and DJ/producer Ant) have bubbled under mainstream conscience, notably with the featuring of 2003 single “Trying To Find a Balance” in the Tony Hawk Underground 2 videogame, and the critically-acclaimed album You Can’t Imagine How Much Fun We’re Having in 2005. It seems now the time is right for Atmosphere blast out from the underground- and they could not have made a better record to do it with. Lemons is a collection of dark, diverse and challenging hip-hop, with brilliance shining through in both the vibrant lyrics, dealing with everything from young families to stalkers, and ambitious production, leaving no rock unturned between funk, rock, electronica, and even grime.

Lyrically, Lemons is easily one of the best hip-hop albums of the past decade. Few can come close to Slug’s intricacy, dynamism and honesty with his lyrics, dealing with everything from coming from not achieving your goals (“Not every pony grows up to be a Pegasus”, he muses on opening track “Like The Rest of Us”) to drug addiction (““Puncture a hole/put a hero in”, from single “Shoulda Known”). But the greatest thing about Lemons is the fact the record’s themes are deep and personal; but at the same time, they are represented through many different perspectives.

Album highlight “Dreamer” tells the story of a classic case scenario of teenage pregnancy- and through it, the bravery of the mother- “Afraid of being alone/But fear ain’t enough to knock her off o’ that stone/Gonna make that home her home/With or without a man that she can call her own”; and the ultimate cowardice of the father- “Told that boy/”Go get employed”/He put on his best shirt/said he wasn’t coming back until he gets work/She knew what that part meant/So she swept every piece out that apartment”.

Other characters throughout the album range from the heartening (album closer “In Her Music Box” tells of a daughter in the midst of Mommy and Daddy’s strained relationship, and her musical escapism from it all- “When Daddy picks Mommy up, they fight/They fight about money/They fight about life/So she concentrates so, so hard on the music/and loses herself inside the bass and the movement”) to the downright creepy (“The Waitress” is all about a hobo who becomes a regular at a cheap cafe, albeit purely for his infatuation with one of the waitresses- “Look, lady/I’m homeless/I’m crazy/I’m so hopeless/I’m suicidal daily/If you and I can’t coexist, let’s fake it/Cause I ain’t got the energy it takes for this relationship”). It’s certainly not what you would expect to find in an era where “ringtone rap” reigns supreme, and can definitely be seen as a breath of fresh air.

One of the best twists, however, comes in the form of “Yesterday”, one of the tracks with the heart firmly placed on the sleeve. Ambiguity weaves through the lyrics that address someone who could have been an old friend or girlfriend, who the main character believes they saw in the street. Near the end, however, the person is revealed to be the character’s father. Once this is established, the song takes on a whole new meaning, adding a further layer of sentimentality to the already highly personal lyrics.

At the centre of every tale on Lemons, of course, is Atmosphere themselves. No matter what the character on each track, Ant and Slug make the entire affair hugely listenable with their respective skills. Slug, as an MC, often has very unique flows that are above and beyond the monotone of many of his contemporaries. He incorporates a mix of singing and rapping on tracks like “Like The Rest of Us”, “Puppets” (which features sassy Gossip frontwoman Beth Ditto on backing vocals) and “Guarantees”, and it makes for very enticing listening throughout. Even when Slug simply raps, there is a lot of world-weariness, pain and, quite often, anger present in his voice that simply isn’t found in many MCs of today.

Producer/DJ Ant provides backdrops for the raw intensity of Slug’s vocal delivery that reflect the song’s mood and intents to perfection. Sometimes there is a full-band sound with a funky mix of keys, bass and guitar, as found on “You” and “Dreamer” (each with killer bass lines); other times a more experimental approach is taken- “Your Glasshouse” sounds like a mix between TV On The Radio and Battles, whilst songs like “The Skinny” and “Can’t Break” are centred musically around the synthesizer and grime-inspired beats. The best song on the album, however, is all about simplicity.

There is nothing more to the four-and-a-half-minute “Guarantees” than a soulful electric guitar and Slug’s unique mixture of singing and rapping. The lack of beat, or any further layering at all, puts the spotlight purely on the heart-wrenching lyrics, painting the story of a young man in a stress-filled life, having issues with everything from his family, to his neighbours, to money, to his own need to escape from it all (“I’ma talk to my cigarette and that television set/It doesn’t matter what brand or station/Anything to take away from the current situation”).
At this time, it appears doubtful that many songs will better “Guarantees” this year in terms of overall excellence- it is almost a certainty that the song will have a lasting impression on whoever listens to it.

Without an utterance of hype behind the release, Atmosphere have thrown their hat in to the ring for album of the year, already a serious contender. Through fifteen extravagant and masterfully executed stories, the duo have given us an album of solid gold- no painting required.



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user ratings (590)
Chart.
3.9
excellent

Comments:Add a Comment 
CushMG15
April 24th 2008



1802 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Reviews pretty solid and very well written. I disagree about your praise of his mixture of singing and rapping, as on here I think some of the time it comes off as corny. However, you're absolutely right about Guarantees. Song is wicked. I haven't settled on a rating yet, but it'll probably sit at about a 4. It nothing else, I think it's his most consistent work yet.

thunderzstruck
April 24th 2008



148 Comments


Guarantees is such an awesome song.

Anyone else in the Minnesota area?
Theyre holding a festival of Aesop Rock, Brother Ali, Atmosphere, Eydea and Abilites, Blueprint, POS and a lot of other undergroup hip hop artists..

caaant wait

Ghearufu
April 25th 2008



87 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

So I have listened to this album a few times over now and I am thoroughly impressed. I agree that this is their most consistent work to date. I honestly don't have much else to say besides give the album a few listens to and then form your opinion because it took more then one listen for me to appreciate the album.

CushMG15
April 25th 2008



1802 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Yo Thunderz, I'm in Madison and I've been hearing about that. I think it's sponsored by rhymesayers.

thunderzstruck
April 25th 2008



148 Comments


yeah it is sponsered by rhymesayers. They held one last year also called paid dues. But it also included Sage Francis and Living Legends.

It's awesome cause the ticket prices for both are only 25.

steveosk8s
April 25th 2008



135 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

absolutely amazing, as always from this duo.

CushMG15
April 25th 2008



1802 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Thats not the same festival as Rock the Bells, is it?

AtavanHalen
April 25th 2008



17927 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

I hope they come to Australia this year.

brandtweathers
April 25th 2008



2009 Comments


wow. bomb review.
listened to this with headphones on at a party bc this is more important.
and i agree... hip hop may be carried by this unlikely duo

Iai
Emeritus
April 25th 2008



3553 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Good review, but

Only MCs such as Kanye West, Jedi Mind Tricks and Buck 65 can come close to Slug’s intricacy, dynamism and honesty with his lyrics

ummmmm

AtavanHalen
April 25th 2008



17927 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

What, you disagree? Don't just quote me and then say nothing.

steveosk8s
April 25th 2008



135 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

alright, atmosphere is one of my all time favorite groups, i love the hell out of this new album, but i just have one thing to say, i find it funny that a ton of white people are claiming this to be the saving grace of hip hop.

mind you, im white, and im not saying it isnt a "saving grace" of hip hop, but its just funny coming from white folks.

ninjuice
April 25th 2008



6758 Comments


The summary makes me expect a negative review. Otherwise, quite good.

brandtweathers
April 25th 2008



2009 Comments


ohhh. mr. young called iai out

CushMG15
April 25th 2008



1802 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

That summary actually does hint towards a negative review.

And this is a 4 right now. It won't get higher, but if it wears off at all it might be a 3.5.

AtavanHalen
April 25th 2008



17927 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

The summary is a play on the band's last album title, and the dark matter of the album. I'll change it if I have to.
Also, I just found out this review has been featured. I'm really honoured, this is my first review to have done so. Thank you, everyone!

Intransit
April 25th 2008



2797 Comments


I bought this, haven't gotten through it but it sounded ace so far. Excited to hear the whole thing on my drive home tomorrow


Eliminator
April 25th 2008



2067 Comments


Only MCs such as Kanye West, Jedi Mind Tricks and Buck 65 can come close to Slug’s intricacy, dynamism and honesty with his lyrics
REVIEW IS AUTOMATICALLY VOID

AtavanHalen
April 25th 2008



17927 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

For god's sake, I'm not talking about every single MC ever. I'm talking about hip-hop around today. Y'know what, I'll change it.

Eliminator
April 25th 2008



2067 Comments


even then you're wrong what a surprise



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