Review Summary: When I start up the motor, it still turns over, But nowadays, a little bit slower…
It’s safe to say that Atmosphere haven’t been consistent or even good for at least a decade. Every album post God Loves Ugly has not met the standard set by that underground classic. The closest they ever got was when they focused on developing their sound. ‘You Can’t Imagine…’ was a successful experiment with Beastie Boys-esque sampling and ‘When Life Gives You Lemons…’ added blue eyed soul with an emphasis on storytelling. While both albums certainly had excellent moments, they weren’t quite up to snuff. For the following decade after ‘Lemons,’ we got a mediocre trilogy of albums that were too long, too unvaried, and often just too cringy (looking at you “Next to You”). It was really too bad. Up until now, I’ve just been accepting the fact these guys are just aged dad-rappers without the passion and fury that made their early albums classic.
To mild surprise, ‘Mi Vida Local’ ends up placing near Atmosphere’s best work. For the first time since ‘You Can’t Imagine…,’ Atmosphere have crafted an album that actually sounds invested in. This becomes clear with opening track “Jerome,” where Slug’s impassioned bars tear out of the gate, backed with some well-placed distorted guitar riffs and a hard-hitting boom-bap beat. Then on album standout “Virgo”, Slug’s ruminations on growing old and finding a place in the modern world are paired with only keyboards and a Spanish guitar. The minimal production here puts the majority of the focus on Slug’s best lyrics in over a decade. Ant’s lush beats all over the album are the perfect counterpoint to Slug’s verses. He adds a ton of details in each track, building on the techniques he learned in the past and even adding new ones. Ant takes influence from younger artists, with synth lines paired with a cosmic sounding organ in “Trim” and “Randy Mosh” that sound like they could’ve come right off a Tyler, the Creator album. This higher quality of musicianship is all over the record, and while it’s nothing that Atmosphere hasn’t done before, they just do it better here than they have in a while.
One of the most pleasant surprises with this album is a much shorter tracklist, resulting in Atmosphere’s shortest LP to date. With a 12-track length, they significantly cut back on the margin for fluff and filler. Streamlining their sound allows Slug and ant to focus on setting a meditative mood for the record that continues throughout the runtime, instead of being all over the place like other albums. Unfortunately, this is not as successful as hoped. The mid-tempo energy that every song has creates more of a plodding feel than the intended meditative one. Slug’s lyrics too, while more consistently good this time around, still saves some time for bad clunkers, like his lines in “Trim”. It’d really benefit his work if he’d stop talking about sex. It’s just weird instead of charming or cheeky at this age. Even the triumphant return of the Dynospectrum on “Randy Mosh” is only meh.
Most Atmosphere albums are mixed bags. Issues regarding album length and quality have perpetuated over the years, most prevalently in the last decade. Southsiders, Fishing Blues, and Family sign all suffer from being too long without enough quality to fill their runtimes. Even though ‘Mi Vida Local’s successfully remedies many of the issues that plagued past albums, at the end of the day this is just another Atmosphere album with Slug and Ant doing what they’ve always done, just better than before. Even with all of these negatives, we are still left with a great album and a nice treat for longtime fans looking for meaningful and approachable hip-hop.