Atmosphere, “Fishing Blues”
To be a longtime Atmosphere fan is to have grown up with Sean Daley and Anthony Davis, and it’s been a rollicking, fearful, and sometimes tedious experience, as all growing up tends to be. Since 1989, Slug (Daley) and producer/DJ Ant (Davis) have helped to both delineate and defiantly resist what it means to be part of whatever “indie rap” is supposed to be, with all its attendant, stubbornly persisting tropes. Hyper-awareness and gnarled wordplay—that which defined Atmosphere and its ilk’s brand of hip-hop—is now, on the duo’s seventh studio LP, that which makes it immutably fine.
Fishing Blues (the title references the notion that older emcees should retire already) isn’t satisfied with itself so much as it’s solidly confident, marking yet another album in which Ant’s live-ish arrangements and Slug’s family-man funk subsist beyond the sample-party playland of 2005’s You Can’t Imagine How Much Fun We’re Having. On the carnival-esque “Ringo,” Slug laments his fall from partying grace and accepts his dad bod—“Just me and my beer gut / I absorb it before I get deported back to orbit”—while on the burnt-orange burble of “The Shit That We’ve Been Through,” he laments the quotidian nature of commitment: “Patiently wait for my taxi / Come save me, and take me away from reality.”
“Pure Evil” inspects the plague of police brutality through the perspective of those who brutalize, over a squelchy beat Kevin Gates would quickly turn down or DOOM would carelessly turn out; the latter joins an addled Kool Keith on the “interesting” “When the Lights Go Out” (“fuck Bill Clinton with his saxophone”—ugh). Meanwhile, the chiptune-festooned “Seismic Waves” is a Macklemore-ish wake-up call (“Things ain’t been the same since Trayvon / Shit, things ain’t been the same since Reagan”), and Aesop Rock gives a much-needed coda to the chugging Illmatic reject “Chasing New York.” But in all, Fishing Blues is all status quo: six tracks too long, sharp but dull. If you’ve heard 2014’s Southsiders, you’re good: here again, Slug does his solipsistic best to find melodrama in the drama-less, while Ant stands on stand-by, making existential guilt sound pretty.