Review Summary: Largely casting aside the serious overtones of their most recent efforts, a rejuvenated Atmosphere show that they haven't lost their touch just yet
Atmosphere may have disappointed me more than any other rap act during my lifetime. I know that this statement is absolutely overflowing with personal bias, but it’s a fact that simply has to preface this review. God Loves Ugly
was one of the first albums that truly crystallized my love for hip hop music. The heartfelt, bitter wordplay and the earworm beats were just the tip of the iceberg; there was a depth and verve to the musical content that separated it from a great deal of their contemporaries. They felt rawer, more thoughtful; unconcerned with building up a façade or image, not requiring layers of fancy production to transmit their message. They simply did what they could, and crafted God Loves Ugly
; an album so steeped in heartache and sharply realized life experience that the craft of the recording could have been acapella, and still retained the bulk of the quality. Unfortunately, it seemed that When Life Gives You Lemons...
was to signal the location where their career tipping-point would be. Despite their near-faultless consistency up until this point, their next two studio albums, The Family Sign
, were worryingly subpar. This was not subpar as in a mere lapse in quality; this was something more deep-seated. It was if a core value influencing the quality of the music had been compromised, or the unilateral vision of the music no longer meant the same to the duo. These albums resulted in this bitter disappointment- I felt that they would never be able to match the heights of their earlier releases. It was as though whatever that was been lost had irreparably compromised their output. Fortunately, though Fishing Blues
may be the start of their rise once again. It’s not a true return-to-form that one would hope for- the second half is exponentially worse than the first, and it is still plagued by various issues present on both TFS
, but it is undoubtedly a start.
The biggest boon to the album is that the quality of the lyrics and flow have dramatically increased from their other recent releases. Tracks such as ‘Besos’, ‘Perfect’ and ‘Seismic Waves’ display the vigor and clarity of a Slug in the prime of his rapping career rather than the jaded has-been he has recently portrayed. They feel like throwbacks to the days of You Can’t Imagine How Much Fun We’re Having
in terms of rhymes. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the beats, and therein lies an issue with Atmosphere’s output. They are attempting to find a marriage between their hip-hop stylistics, which are quintessentially classic in style, and very modern beats. Much the same as Kanye West’s recent infatuation with synths and samples ripped straight from prominent electronica styles, Ant’s beats are lacking the edge that they once had, in favour of the misguided hodgepodge on display here. I found that the majority of the beats did grow on me after a few listens, but the instrumentals still do not feel like the Atmosphere I hoped would make a comeback. Despite this, tracks like ‘Perfect’ show perfect harmony between these new and old styles; the flow and lyricism are sharp and showcase Slug at his most impressive; the synths clash with the beat, but in an oddly creative way. The choral sections of the song feel a little misplaced but are certainly not a dealbreaker; all in all one of the best songs on the release.
There are a number of tracks where the complacent side of Atmosphere begins to set in on Fishing Blues, and because of the how solid a great deal of the tracklist is, this emphasizes these lapses tenfold. ‘Ringo’, for instance, whilst not an outright bad track, makes use of trite bell cues amidst a markedly simple beat/ bassline. It sounds somewhat peculiar, and although the flow of the track is somewhat charming, it is slow and rather unimpressive for listeners who are aware of Slug’s abilities. The chorus on this particular track is diabolical; repetitive, underwritten and supremely irritating. Similarly, the song ‘Next To You’, unquestionably one of the album’s weaker moments, is a misguided slow composition with an underwhelming vibe to its instrumentation. ‘Guarantees’ has been one of the very rare occasions where Slug’s slow flow has not hindered a track; unfortunately, ‘Next To You’ does nothing to buck this trend. On the opposing side, though, ‘The *** That We’ve Been Through’ is an excellent track- intelligent lyrics, a pleasing flow and a thoroughly well-produced beat make it an truly memorable moment on Fishing Blues. It feels like a true callback to the glory days of Atmosphere, and it is such a pity the album could not be made up of more suchlike moments. ‘No Biggie’, too, displays the emotionality that littered rhymes on God Loves Ugly
and Seven’s Travels
- it is truly a joy to see that Slug is still capable of this viscous and heartfelt clarity.
The title Fishing Blues
denotes a relaxation; a clarity, a mellow interlude in proceedings for the band. Unfortunately, this is a little meaningless when their last two releases have been so lackadaisical and complacent. Ironically, Fishing Blues
signals them at their most vibrant and diverse for quite some time. Although there is more than enough material here to denote Fishing Blues
as a thankful return to form, it is clear from certain tracks that they are still mired in the quicksand that was slowly consuming them on their two most recent releases. On the one hand, this release displays a carefree expression that was missing from the rather serious tones they have previously shown to be peddling. This alone makes Fishing Blues
a tremendously satisfying experience, and longtime fans will doubtlessly find things to love about the release. Unfortunately, even the tracks that are reminiscent of their stronger earlier material feel like nostalgic callbacks and imitations rather than continuations, and the somewhat faddy prominence of the electronic elements is also a questionable touch. The melodies, both in rhymes and music has definitely been stronger, but this is a step back up the greased ladder Atmosphere were descending to the bottom at breakneck pace, and although it is certainly not their strongest outing, it signals at least a slight to the quality they were once renowned for.