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Atmosphere - Southsiders LP
Eight albums in and Minnesota's indie rap act Atmosphere are as angsty as ever, but on the great Southsiders, MC Slug and producer Ant fight hard against the dreck and depression of everyday life as they take a mature stance and muddle through it all with style and a sense of purpose. Think of a Macklemore without the Black Eyed Peas-sized pop moves and the brilliance of singsongy and snide tracks like "Bitter" ("Everything used to be so good then/Now it seems you're mad at my footprints") is at hand, while "Kanye West" lives up to its bold title with a combination of claustrophobia (Ant's production features a Yeezus-worthy, suffocating guitar crunch), a crooked chorus ("Put your hands in the air like you really do care"), and a new manifesto ("If we gonna struggle, I'm a gonna do it comfortably/And live life like I like to breathe"). Put a '40s-influenced beat under "Mrs. Interpret" and Slug's off to the Cotton Club with "It ain't no misbehavin' to tell you you're the taste that I've been cravin'," and even if "The World Might Not Live Through the Night" sounds like an apocalyptic bit of dour, the MC interpolates the wild choices of Wu-Tang ("Leaning against the same crutches/Like a new game plan ain't nuthin' to fuck with") and Musical Youth ("Pass the judgment pon the left-hand side"), and suddenly the end times seem funky and fun. It's not all cheekiness and light as the moving "Flicker" deals with the death of rapper and friend Eyedea with poignancy and pride, but even on this superior cut, the veteran group pulls on the strength of its past and drops a couple clown references so the insiders feel rewarded. The spark and hunger of early efforts like God Love Ugly still offer the biggest thrill for newcomers, but since growth and groundation are skillfully balanced on Southsiders, this is arguably the most deep and different album in the band's discography. It's also the best argument that the "mopey" duo is much, much more.