Atmosphere

Rhymesayers

Sincerity is Atmosphere’s strong point, so it makes sense that the Minnesota hiphop duo named its fifth disc You Can’t Imagine How Much Fun We’re Having. And, uh, no we can’t, because rapper Sean “Slug” Daley and beatmaker Anthony “Ant” Davis are still no more lighthearted than your average prairie-populist rally. Slug, in particular, seems to have gold-plated the chip on his shoulder, because Fun is essentially his me-against-the-world magnum opus, even if the world (at least the indie-rap part) has been showing plenty of love. “Bitch, turn your mike off and turn the lights off/Whoever put your record out musta needed writeoffs,” he spits at an unnamed foe in “Watch Out,” adding later, “Shittin’ on me is so 2002.” Those lines have bite, sure, but they’re also pointless. After all, how many people actually care about Atmosphere’s exact position in hiphop’s hierarchy? Slug is more relevant when he sticks to the intersection of addiction and love (“Panic Attack,” “Angelface,” “Pour Me Another”), spins a narrative about a tragic rape and murder (“That Night”), or simply sends off letters to the kids in his life (“Little Man”). He delivers almost every track on Fun in his “tough rapper” voice, and it does get a little old, if only because the lyrics demand a bit more vocal nuance and a little less old-school hollering. Sometimes the staged attitude is necessary, though: “I can stumble drunk over hope and love/Or I can just keep drinkin’ until I sober up,” he says during “Pour Me Another.” Ant’s beats are also somewhat overfortified, but their consistency gives Fun backbone. Like Kanye West, he enjoys reshaping hooks from dusty soul and funk records, but his dedication to thick snares and analog kick drums is much stronger. Few of the rhythms on Fun are adventurous or subtle, but the predictability isn’t necessarily a flaw. “Smart Went Crazy,” for instance, has a raised-pitch guitar riff, a wandering ’60s-soul bass line, some chopped-up female vocal samples, and a no-nonsense beat. Nothing revolutionary there—but it doesn’t need much more because Slug is so invested in the song. (“Only guarantee in life is death or a headfuck,” he says.) Granted, the overall lack of subtlety can be tiresome—the jam-band vibe of “Angelface” and the dark piano chords, hushed vocals, and multilayered percussion of “That Night” are a welcome respite—but if anything, the disc is about finding ways to be genuine and energetic at the same time. If that’s not fun, well, them’s the breaks. —Joe Warminsky