4 out of 5 stars
Over the course of their careers, the hip-hop duo Atmosphere has been one of the more interesting members of the underground rap community. It helps that they’re co-founders of one of the best independent hip-hop record labels in existence: Minneapolis’ Rhymesayers Entertainment. With a lineup including MF Doom, Soul Position, Brother Ali and the Boom Bap Project, they’ve put out a bevy of solid releases over the last few years. So why Atmosphere decided to release their sixth full length as a free digital-only release is a mystery to me.
Atmosphere has always been defined by the solid production work of Ant (Anthony Davis) and the moody introspective rhymes of Slug (Sean Daley). The group has advertised the album’s tracks as “13 songs to chase away the winter doldrums. Great for first dates, crappy houseparties or to play in the background while you Google yourself again.” It is a very party-centered record that features some excellent soul and funk sample-happy production work from Ant, which only helps to boost the strength of Slug’s delivery. While Slug’s rhymes are still introspective and personal, he isn’t nearly as temperamental as on previous releases. The end product is a very good, high quality hip-hop record from the first track to the last.
Key Tracks: “YGM,” “That’s Not Beef, That’s Pork,” “The Things That Hate Us”
2 out of 5 stars
For those of you out there who are unaware, Magnetic Fields is the primary vehicle for music wunderkind Stephin Merritt. After releasing five albums between 1990 and 1995, Magnetic Fields made a name for themselves in 1999 by putting out “69 Love Songs.” Now Merrit’s main project is back after three and a half years with an album that could not be more appropriately titled.
Surprisingly consistent in terms of song length (all but one song clocks in between 2:51 and 3:07), “Distortion” is an often murky album that features overly fuzzy guitar and instrumentation with reverb manipulating every sound, even the vocals. In places it’s not so bad, but at other times all the reverb and distortion nearly make the album unlistenable. Now I like reverb as much as the next guy, but for a Magnetic Fields record this is a bit over the top. Merritt’s bell-like baritone has trouble cutting through the noise, and the same goes for Shirley Simms’ pleasant vocal work. All in all it’s a bit of a disappointment, and probably could have been improved by turning down that reverb knob a bit.
Key Tracks: “California Girls,” “Drive On, Driver”