Press Play – Album Reviews

The lives of working-class people aren’t usually lyrical fodder for rappers. The lives of depressed people aren’t generally represented, either.

AtmosphereWhen Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint That Shit Gold****The lives of working-class people aren’t usually lyrical fodder for rappers. The lives of depressed people aren’t generally represented, either.

And that makes sense. There isn’t money in dejection. Just don’t tell Atmosphere.On their new album, When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint That Shit Gold, the duo of lyricist Slug and beat-smith Ant have produced 15 tracks of downtrodden, precisely written hip-hop music, each song a proclamation of urban decay and emotional unrest. This album is definitely not party music. But then again, not every hip-hop record has to be.

Slug’s lyrics continue on his previous path of introspection, but he often inhabits and narrates from the eyes of other city-dwellers, among them a homeless man and poor warehouse worker. Where past Atmosphere releases have deviated from incessant navel-gazing in the form of traditional hip-hop themes, Paint That Shit Gold single-mindedly attacks its soul-crushing subject matter. Luckily for Atmosphere, Slug’s inner-mind is actually compelling, if not exactly joyful.

This album is a triumph of lyricism, fulfilling the promise only hinted at by other indie-rappers.

Musically, Paint That Shit Gold is a surprising departure for a group known for its production abilities. Every track features a great deal of live instrumentation; especially notable is the use of what sounds like vintage synthesizers–making a few songs echo like a mutation of classic horror-movie scores and hip-hop dirge (check out “Can’t Break”).

I wish that I could say this new musical direction always works for this Minneapolis duo, but, as with all albums that represent a leap forward, there are growing pains here. Not every track is perfect, and a couple more up-tempo songs would have rounded out the album.

But these are quibbles, small blemishes on what is actually a unique and fascinating work of art. There’s bitterness here, sure, but that shit is painted gold.

-Ed Johnson

Snoop DoggEgo Trippin’ 1/2*

Snoop d-o-double-g’s ninth album begins with the wholly contrived proclamation that, despite being so busy working on his new MTV show, he has not forgotten about what is most important in his life, which is apparently “making music.” Bad call, Snoop. You were supposed to say “smoking weed” there. But really, no opening boast could salvage the overwhelming feeling of emptiness that old-school Snoop fans will surely experience after listening to this record. Full of bullshit computer-manipulated voices, weak-ass quasi-R&B guest rappers, and even having the audacity to skimp in the catchy-iggity euphemism department, Snoop is just not trying anymore. So you should just not buy this album.

-Ryan McLaughlin

AmeliaA Long, Lovely List of Repairs****

Whining about broken relationships and lost opportunities is easy to do, which is probably why there are so many albums out there dedicated to heartache. However, writing about the moving-on process in a real and un-saccharine way can be trickier.

Amelia’s third full-length album, A Long, Lovely List of Repairs, is up for the challenge and aptly succeeds. The opening lyrics to the album’s first track, “Enemigo,” are sung powerfully and beautifully in Spanish: “The enemy believes I’m lacking in faith / That a pistol and sword can kill me.”

Amelia’s vocals are soft but not delicate, and she manages to convey a depth of emotion without coming off as just another emo kid with a guitar. Her supporting band, too, brings character to her songs. The rhythms wind around the lyrics and draw them out into a three-dimensional space of color and shadows, where the motions of life are portrayed as stories, not melodramas.

-Melinda Bardon

Cherry Poppin’ DaddiesSusquehanna**1/2

It’s easy to recall the pop-swing hit “Zoot Suit Riot” (riot!), but do you remember much else the Cherry Poppin’ Daddies have done? Yeah, me neither. And the fifth Daddies album takes things in a new and ultimately frivolous direction.

This swingin’ band of former University of Oregon students (mostly dropouts) can bring the zazz and pow with their live show, but Susquehanna‘s amalgamation of Latin zip, reggae crackle and rockabilly pop doesn’t pull in a listener’s ear with the same distinction as albums past. It’s not a bad album, per se, but it just lacks the same soul and vim of their old swing revival juices.

The lyrics and instrumentation are plenty exciting, though there’s no real cohesion from track to track, even if you are driven to dance in your snazziest pants. That pretty much sums up Susquehanna: hip and savvy, but hardly the best album these cool cats have released. Stick to the swing, daddy-o.

-Robert Seitzinger

BrailleThe IV Edition ***

Portland hip-hop equals love. Not the craziest rapper to emerge from our scene, but by no means the worst, Braille’s beats and delivery remind me a bit of the dudes from Hanger 18. This is solid indie-hip-hop.

There is a really good lyric in the last song on this album that says “yo critics, you don’t have to give this a perfect score, on a scale of one to five, maybe call it a four.” Well, for me, it has to be a three, but only because he is up against so much competition in our fine city–but Braille definitely has potential. An upcoming stint on the Warped Tour will test him against a different audience much like Atmosphere and co. did back in the day, and it will be interesting to chart his progression. Also, he apparently “doesn’t play with guns” — righteous.

-Ryan McLaughlin