“One Minnesota, two Minnesota, three, and Atmosphere” is back with a brand new record, Fishing Blues.
Hip-hop duo of rapper Slug and producer DJ Ant have been running the indie scene, and acting as hometown heroes for the midwest for over a decade. This new album is a must for any longstanding fans of hip-hop, or anyone looking to dive into indie rap, but not ready for the densest metaphors the subgenre has to offer. Fishing Blues is an album about dropping the line inside your own psyche and fishing out all the fears, insecurities, and worries that have been floating around for years. It’s thoughtful, it’s well done, and it’s time to stop sleeping and give this album a listen.
On Fishing Blues, Slug sounds more invested in each bar he delivers, and more involved in creating common threads throughout the songs. The very first song comes off triumphant, there’s a real sense of arrival. Slug is here, he’s got a purpose, and you can really hear that he has a true need to rap. Working with the metaphor of the title, “Like a Fire” is Slug casting the line out into himself. The image of a fire is strong in that it brings up the dichotomy Slug works with over the course of the album between growth and “burning out like a fire.” This track marks the first of many instances that Slug is prepared to acknowledge a finite end, but is also driven to fight against it. The hitches of dead space at the end of each hook do well to simulate that suspended feeling, that “is this really it?” feeling, before Ant’s beats and uppity scratches come back in and the fishing saga continues.
To be expected, this project is marked by a few beloved, oddball moments, namely the medieval tones on the project’s lead single “Ringo.” The court-jester mood, emphasized by the song’s video, is unexpected, but also encompasses the kind of eccentricism I’m looking for in an Atmosphere record. The track teases at the idea of Slug never taking himself too seriously, as he nonchalantly announces “I might’ve got high with your bodyguard/I might’ve passed out in the airport bar,” over the hook. Then we have the following line, “Everybody wanna see a falling star,” where Slug is likely referring to himself, and relating back to the initial image of a burnt out fire.
Of course, Atmosphere is more than just Slug’s scrawled poems. DJ Ant has been holding down the duo’s sound for over a decade. On Fishing Blues, Ant’s production is really in top form. He’s doing everything in his power to put together beats that fit Slug’s medium register and crystal clear delivery, while still holding together an auditory aesthetic for the album. The light flute leads on “Besos” help sustain that peaceful, daytime-fishing-trip-with-a-friend feeling that the majority of the album exists in. Even on a darker song, like “Perfect,” there are bright synths layered into the back of the mix and pops of brightness in the percussion.
More than just making enjoyable beats, Ant’s production tells its own story. The final moments of “No Biggie” sound like a slow dive, with notes from the bass that emulate the glub-glub of fish. Moving into “Everything,” the bass slows down and puts on a deep-sea mood. There’s a pressure to the beat as if you’re sinking too deep, not getting enough oxygen. Fishing Blues is another example of DJ Ant’s special ability to capture and deliver a full-bodied experience.
Apart from the production and writing, the features on this album are great. Between DOOM, Aesop, deM atlaS who’s tasked with saving a song, and The Grouch, Slug picks artists that really compliment his style without, for the most part, outshining him. Aside from “Next to You,” none of the tracks with features come off competitive between the artist and Slug. The features are well spaced, and don’t overpopulate the album. Fishing Blues is very much Slug’s record, with a few welcome friends on the side.
In terms of songwriting, the transition from “No Biggie” to “Everything,” where the hook slows down and carries over into the first few bars, is one of the most lyrically satisfying moments on the project. Slug is really fishing within himself here, coming to peace with where he’s arrived in his life and really assessing how full of a life he’s lived. He comments on all the lives he’s been able to live as a result of making music. The real peace comes on the line “And if I could handwrite what they say when I’m gone/It’s that he said everything that he could fit in his mouth.” It’s an honest way of broaching his own mortality, and can resonate with anyone.
That being said, Slug can’t seem to escape putting together a bundle of cringe-inducing, dad-rap lines and calling them a track. “Next to You” is a hard song to listen to, plain and simple. His flow is awkward, the topic is uncomfortable, and the only saving grace is the deM atlaS feature. Slug is definitely a veteran of the game, but throwing up a song like “Next to You” really shows his age, shows that he’s just a tad out of touch. And while it’s in Atmosphere’s repertoire to make longer projects, there has to come a moment where the duo sit down and edit themselves. The album suffers from the filler songs like “The Shit That We’ve Been Through,” and “Sugar.” Though both of these cuts sound like mature versions of God Loves Ugly tracks, they don’t feel like they accomplish anything in terms of the album, aside from being pleasant to listen to.
Filler aside, Slug works a sense nostalgia in throughout the record, without it being egregious. We don’t really feel forced to look back with fondness, instead it’s an altogether natural reaction. A song like “Seismic Waves” calls back to the “good old days.” We have “Chasing New York,” which is one long song about memories, expectations, and travels. The hook on this tracks is a good progression of the character Slug has built between “No Biggie” and “Everything.” After swallowing the inevitable truth of his mortality, he comes on this cut with a revived sense of optimism since he’s “Still got a long way to go” and has no plans to stop chasing his dreams. At its core, this song excels in communicating how timeless Slug’s passion for music is.
By the end of the album, we are met with a lot of resolution. All of the blues Slug went fishing for at the start of the project have been reeled in, and Slug concludes that he is going to keep battling the idea of endings. Despite his doubts, Slug will “Still be here,” despite fears that he might not “have anything else to share,” the final stretch of the album comes off as a promise to the listeners that Slug will not have an ending. This steadfast opposition to finality comes across very well in the closing song “A Long Hello,” wherein Slug makes it clear that this is not a goodbye, just “a long hello,” and notes for the last time that he’s not going anywhere in any capacity.
Overall, Fishing Blues is a nice return to what Atmosphere does best. This project is definitely the best work they’ve put out in a while, and far better than Southsiders. A timeless group with a classic under their belt, I’ll be sure to listen to every Atmosphere album that comes out and hope that they never stop making music. It’s comforting to hear Slug still at it, “making it cool to rap about love again,” it’s refreshing to hear him getting serious, it’s a little worrisome that he’s still airing on the side of dad-rap, but most of all it’s time to stop sleeping and listen to Fishing Blues by Atmosphere.