You Can't Imagine How Much Fun We're Having 

Atmosphere

(Rhymesayers)

Alt-rap Everyman ages eloquently.

Easily indie-rap's most charismatic star, Atmosphere MC Slug is the rare figure in his world to blend introspection and empathy with a head-bobbing flow and welcoming sense of humor.

Slug's playful side is still palpable on this fifth full-length album but perhaps more buried than on 2003's expansive but relatively tortured tour diary, Seven's Travels. That album had Atmosphere straying from hip-hop's basics, but here producer partner Ant crafts a more beatwise, more cohesive palette for Slug's confessional raps.

You Can't Imagine How Much Fun We're Having is also in large part about the life of a touring musician. The album opens with an indie-rap call-to-arms. Slug has always been and remains a compelling voice on hip-hop's scene politics (see Lucy Ford's "Party for the Fight To Write" or the early anthem "Multiples"). But on You Can't Imagine How Much Fun We're Having (the title is deeply sarcastic), he sounds ready to give up the whole thing. "I'm over 30," he confesses. "Cars drive by with the boomin' system/I must be getting old cause the bass sounds ridiculous," he muses. But "I've got at least one more tour in me," he insists.

If the next tour is anything like the last, it might be the last. On "That Night," Ant laces a rattled, eloquently bruising beat over which Slug spins a shocking story of a young fan raped and murdered at a gig in Albuquerque, an event that makes him want to go home and completely start over. And back home is another reason to rethink things: There are a lot of hip-hop songs about having an absentee dad, but the album-closing "Little Man" is the only one I can think of about being one, even if it's really about Slug himself, ending with a sad vision of the touring rapper asleep on a hotel bed: "Looks like a naked fetus/Come and save him Jesus/Place him back in time before the Reaganomics and Adidas." -- Chris Herrington

Grade: A-

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