With the exception of Lucy Ford and Godlovesugly, which were cut from a similar cloth, every Atmosphere album has been a clear departure from the previous. When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint That Shit Gold is easily the most dramatic departure yet. You Can’t Imagine How Much Fun We’re Having was full of either rugged, hard-hitting boom bap or soulful numbers. But Lemons is different animal, it’s much quieter and softer around the edges. Slug‘s mature verses coming to life over live instrumentation. No, Ant wasn’t replaced by their tour band, they just took a page from Dr. Dre‘s books and had all of the samples replayed by musicians.
Don’t let the airy into “Like The Rest of Us” lead you to think the album is soft, cause once those drums kick in on “Puppets” you’ll remember what the deal is. It is generally Slug‘s varied delivery that really changes the album, he sounds completely different than he ever has on quite a few songs. The second single “Guarantee” is obviously the best example of this. The beat is nothing more than guitar licks, not a drum in sight, and he raps accordingly. It may lack the aggressive edge their music often has, but dope is dope. “You” marks easily the happiest and “poppiest” song the Minnesota duo has turned out, and will likely draw the ire of some fans. Smile kids.
Amidst his non-stop narrative, Slug imparts plenty of wisdom, perspective and food for thought on a multitude of topics. Even though he has a lot of great things to say, Slug is very careful with his words and avoids climbing aboard the dreaded soap box. It’s likely because his critical eye looks inward just as much as it scans his surroundings that keeps from coming off as preachy. Just as important, these life lessons are often embedded in his stories, allowing you to take what you will. The pinnacle of this story telling comes on “The Waitress.” Told from the perspective of a homeless man as he co-exists with a bitter waitress at a diner, it’s the kind of story only Slug could make so moving; “ignoring the insults and evil eyes/I feed off’em, I wonder when she’ll realize/that she’s the only reason I visit/the only woman in my world that acknowledges my existence/and if my ship ever comes I’ll miss it/because I’m gettin’ old and I ain’t got much left to give it/….. /in a café bathroom drinking free tap water/thinking damn I shoulda been a better father to my daughter.”
As said, virtually every song here is a story; “Me” is his own and told in the third person. His psycho-analysis is still unmatched and his career of heart-break raps are given a whole new perspective; “self-learning in between the self-loathing/strangled in the cycle, can’t feel yourself choking/some of them would overlap/some of them would double back/none of them deserved to be exposed to all the trouble that he posed/…./make no mistake he puts the man in manipulate/and he’s attracted to the women that reciprocate.” “Dreamer” is the account of a single mother carving out her own path in the world, and the track’s shape shifting for the last verse is yet another example of their growth as song writers. “The Skinny” flips that on its ear with a stick-his-dick-in-anything pimp doubling for a cigarette garnering the spotlight over a jagged little beat.
Not everything is spun into gold, even though there are no lemons either. “Wild, Wild Horses” and “Can’t Break” are closer to bronze than gold. “Glass House” is probably silver on account of the wonderful account of a bar star post bar, but the beat sounds like the score from a bad 80’s sci-fi flick.
The pillars of Rhymesayers continue to evolve on album number six; making increasingly mature music to relatively young fan base without blinking an eye. The beauty of Lemons is that it will satisfy current fans and play well to an entirely different crowd than their last album. They’ve got the paint and the canvas in Minneapolis.