There is a thick layer of dreamy melancholy hovering over The Family Sign, the latest release from Minnesota dream-team rap duo Atmosphere. The album is dripping with silky pianos, while Slug (the lyricist half of the group), continues illuminating the darkest alleyways with his uncomfortably truthful rapping. The album is slick, but the tight production doesn’t undermine Slug’s dark storytelling as he narrates the lives of abused women, drug users and men huddled under overpasses with cigarettes dangling from their lips.


The Family Sign

The opening track, “My Key,” begins with a lazy piano as atmospheric guitar chord progressions accompany Slug, who sings and raps in turn like he’s recovering from a blurry hangover. He raps, “I stole paint to write your name on the stone wall,” which speaks to the dysfunctional theme of the album. The sonically layered opener inspires a mounting dread in the listener as the guitars shift from being dream-like to slightly ominous, setting the tone for the rest of the rich, dark record.

“The Last to Say” has Slug explicitly narrating an abusive husband who beats up his wife in front of his son. The song applies the keyboard sparingly and the music takes a backseat to the raw, straightforward lyrics — “You can’t hold hands when they’re making fists.” The track is relatively weak and suffers from a lack of depth, but the bare bones of this tragic story will still make the listener uneasy. Atmosphere demands a lot, and sometimes it seems like the duo wants its audience in tears by the end of the tracks rather than just boppin’ around on the way to class.

“Who I’ll Never Be” has some uncharacteristically delicate Spanish guitars, which is fitting for a track that has Slug mooning after a woman singing mournfully by herself. The track isn’t a standout in terms of production — it seems shallow compared to other more layered cuts — but it has a haunting, confessional quality as Slug dwells on his shortcomings and the universal pain of unrequited love.

Though Atmosphere in past years has been known for playful lyricism and crisp production, as time wears on, the duo has shifted toward music that is deeper in tone, with moody material that draws on the tough realities of the underworld. On the track “If You Can Save Me Now,” Slug says, “I’ll try not to weigh you down,” and even though he doesn’t keep his promise, the album will stay with listeners as its haunting narratives reverberate long after the last moody guitar chord has faded.

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