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All Grown Up

music_atmos1Indie-rap crew, Atmosphere, shows signs of evolution in sound and maturity
Upon listening to the latest effort from Minneapolis indie-rap crew Atmosphere, the word "maturity" comes to mind. And while it is arguably a fair adjective to describe the new album, The Family Sign, the group's front man, Sean Daley, doesn't like it.

"I make rap music, so 'mature' is kind of a bad word," says Daley, the MC better known as Slug. He prefers the word, “evolved.” "Ultimately, this is music for kids," he explains.

The group's sixth LP has passion, machismo and plenty of snark—only in a more grown-up kind of way. And Slug is fine with that.

"I can't freak the funk," he says. "I can't make another God Loves Ugly"—2002's ode to debauchery and depression, wherein Daley bemoans the loss of his fictional muse, Lucy Ford, while drowning in booze.

In fact, at this point in Daley's life (he's nearly 40), it wouldn't really make sense for him to drop another Sevens Travels, either. While it is a fantastic record packed with plenty of brilliantly caustic revelations on human nature, and while Slug manages to move beyond his lovesick lamentations, he only does so with the help of more drink and a steady stream of women who clearly mean nothing to him.

But, by the time Atmosphere released When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint That Shit Gold in 2008, something had changed. Slug, as a narrator at least, had given up binge drinking and sleeping around, and Atmosphere producer, Anthony "Ant" Davis, had begun experimenting with live instrumentation—both in concert and in the studio.

Still, there were traces of the old Atmosphere in Lemons. The record made a stylistic break from prior albums, at least lyrically. On "Your Glasshouse," for example, Slug paints a morose, hellish picture of alcoholism—a far cry from "Shoes" off of Sevens Travels, which makes light of blacking out, then passing out, in a strange girl's apartment.

However, as Daley points out, the new musical direction wasn't as zeroed in on Lemons as it is on The Family Sign. While Davis' production embraced live instruments, Daley says, "Ant was still using instruments like samples"—chopping up bits of guitar here and piano there.

music_atmos2On The Family Sign, Daley's more “evolved" lyricism meets production that has managed to do something very difficult: make band-backed rap that doesn't sound tacky.

"Shit," Daley says. "If we did do that, it was accidental." Taking on a tone of modesty, the MC explains that he, Ant and the band (Atmosphere now has a permanent keyboardist and guitarist) simply attempted to capture the sounds from genres they love—like blues, country and rock—and stir it all up in a way that made sense to them.

"We were just trying to capture moods and vibes like we would if we took them off a record," he says.

The result is an album that straddles genres in a very compelling and innovative way, taking rap in a direction that is both new, but also familiar.

Daley is now a married man with children, and that is very apparent on The Family Sign. The track "She's Enough," is a oath of fidelity to his wife—a definite head-turner in a genre that prizes notches in the bedpost.

All the same, as Daley says, perhaps he is evolving more than he is maturing. There are definitely vestiges of the old Slug—the one who made God Loves Ugly—the one who is self-absorbed, cynical and perpetually drunk.

On "Bad Bad Daddy," one of The Family Sign's standouts, he croons about bringing a group of children to the bar. It's not a song about deadbeat dads, he explains. It's a metaphor for all the indie-rappers he has sired—all of whom have lost their way.

"It's me talking about all the other indie-rappers that came out of my balls," he says. "That song is basically saying that I gave birth to you, and I'm looking at you and I'm disappointed."

Now that is the Slug we all know, and sometimes love.


Atmosphere plays at 8 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 25, at the Civic Auditorium, 307 Church St., Santa Cruz. Tickets are $41.75. For more information, call 420-5260.
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Heart Me Up

In defense of Valentine’s Day

 

“be(ing) of love (a little) more careful”—e.e. cummings

Wednesday (Feb. 10) is Ash Wednesday, when Lent begins. Friday (Feb. 12) is Lincoln’s 207th birthday. Sunday is Valentine’s Day. On Ash Wednesday, with foreheads marked with a cross of ashes, we hear the words, “From dust thou art and unto dust thou shalt return.” Reminding us that our bodies, made of matter, will remain here on Earth when we are called back. It is our Soul that will take us home again. Lent offers us 40 days and nights of purification in preparation for the Resurrection (Easter) festival (an initiation) and for the Three Spring Festivals (at the time of the full moon)—Aries, Taurus, Gemini. The New Group of World Servers have been preparing since Winter Solstice. The number 40 is significant. The Christ (Pisces World Teacher) was in the desert for 40 days and 40 nights prior to His three-year ministry. The purpose of this desert exile was to prepare his Archangel (light) body to withstand the pressures of the Earth plane (form and matter). We, too, in our intentional purifications and prayers during the 40 days of Lent, prepare ourselves (physical body, emotions, lower mind) to receive and be able to withstand the irradiation of will, love/wisdom and light streaming into the Earth at spring equinox, Easter, and the Three Spiritual Festivals. What is Lent? The Anglo-Saxon word, lencten, comes from an ancient spring festival, agricultural rites marking the transition between winter and summer. The seasons reflect changes in nature (physical world) and humanity responds with social festivals of gratitude and of renewal. There is a purification process, prayerfulness in nature and in humanity in preparation for a great flow of spiritual energies during springtime. Valentine’s Day: Aquarius Sun, Taurus moon. Let us offer gifts of comfort, ease, harmony, beauty and satisfaction. Things chocolate and golden. Venus and Taurus things.

 

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