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Slug’s musical topic of choice? Slug.

Perhaps not anymore.

On Atmosphere’s sixth full-length release, When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint That Shit Gold, emcee Slug steps out of his own shadow, choosing rather to expand his lyrical depth with an emphasis on character-driven dramas.

Gone is the personal diary – for the most part. The angst which has driven Slug for the better part of a decade has also vanished. What’s left is an intricate collection of third-person narratives about life in, well, it’s most realistic interpretation. Addiction, teenage pregnancy, homlessness, a much more relaxed Slug confronts them all to varied effect. A common thread, parenthood, looms throughout.

“Guarantees” is a rustic ode to the blue collar, told through the eyes of a conflicted warehouse employee. “Kill me in my 30s in the name of progress,” he says. And you believe him.

Dynamics such as the one presented on “The Waitress,” however brief, are equal parts rare and refreshing. So, too, is Tom Waits providing background vocals (in the form of a beatbox), which is slightly ironic in the context of the album. Equally enjoyable is “In Her Music Box,” a tale of escapism, specifically a child’s attempt to elude her parents’ strained relationship through music.

The optimism suggested in the album’s title certainly plays a role on Lemons as well. There’s even some sentimentality buried inside this 15-track saunter. “Yesterday” is a therapeutic conversation, a posthumous reconciliation of sorts, between Slug and his deceased father. It’s a touching – dare I say uplifting – piece, further enhanced by Ant’s lively piano-driven production.

Like Slug, Ant is not treading a familiar path here.  He abandons the sample-based production that has dominated the group’s landscape, opting instead for a blend of live instrumentation and jarring new wave synth. The result is quite an obscure palette. Overall, there’s a more organic sound (“Guarantees,” “Like The Rest of Us”), but that’s not to say there isn’t an edge here (“Shoulda Known,” “Can’t Break”).

For those expecting traditional Atmosphere, this will be a pill tough to swallow. Evolution is never easy to accept, and there’s evidence – or speed bumps – here to support the theory (See “You”). Still, it’s hard to argue with quality, and Lemons has that in abundance. - Jack Goodson

  Mixtape D.L.
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