Spring cleaning gets all the mentions, but Fall cleaning is a good scene, too. You shelve those summery vibes, ditch exposed skin, gather the requisite nuts and square things away before hunkering down. The sun-fueled freewheeling fun is done; the tone turns down a bit, as bright, playful colors give way to something more earthy.
This is also a fair description of Atmosphere’s new album, Whenever, which arrived unannounced in October. It’s reflective to be sure, but with a much lighter touch than we’ve come to expect from the moody Minneapolis rapper Slug.
Like Midwestern rap contemporary Eminem, Slug has always possessed an angst-y, self-deprecating style. He typically trades typical rap braggadocio for the kind of circumspect, unsparing honesty and withering wit you’d expect from someone who wrote “God Loves Ugly” about himself.
Necessarily, the 47-year old Slug (aka Sean Daley) isn’t the same person who cut his teeth singing about bad girlfriends and his own failings in the late nineties and early aughts, initally embodying both in the character of Lucy Ford, a temptation spawned of “Lucifer” (Get it?).
“The thing that holds it together, what I think is important about that story, or about my body of work, isn’t that the dude that made Lucy Ford wouldn’t crack jokes about the guy that made you know, [2016’s] Fishing Blues, I would. But they’re still in line with each other,” said Slug. “The fact that people are still allowing me to do this, that I haven’t been fing fired yet, dude. I mean, to have the same job for 25 years?
“That’s a fing scary thing. Especially coming from where I came from where I didn’t think I would live past 33,” he added. “Not only did I live past 33…. I’m still alive and I’m still rapping. It’s like some of my heroes can’t even claim that, right?”
There’s a reflective air to the new album. It’s about getting by, as on “Bde Maka Ska,” when he raps, “it’s not a mess if you control the stress and never let it get the best of ya/S, it’s easier said than done, if we can’t get free might as well get dumb.”
He’s hooking empathy on “Love Each Other,” and contemplates “The Hands of Time,” which opens with him singing, “I used to be assertive. Now I’m just exhausted.” But there are also breezy moments as when Slug professes his casual affection for a sexy “Postal Lady.”
Unlike most of his albums, there isn’t a uniting theme or perspective tying the songs together, as on 2003’s Seven’s Travels, which was all about life on the road. That’s because the tracks were originally written as a soundtrack for an unnamed new series on a streaming network. However, after creating the music the opportunity fell through. (Atmosphere has never been willing to surrender control of its masters, a precondition that led to an amicable parting of ways.)
“We made these instrumental beds… and I was more focused on making sure that each side of this album was airtight and beautiful,” said Slug about the music/lyrical dichotomy. “In fact, from my side, I was just like, what can I do to make somebody pull out their phone and examine this? Because I figured this was gonna be people who’ve never heard our music before. So how do I get them to be like, ‘What the fis this?’ So that’s why talking about the ‘Postal Lady.’ How do I keep them from turning the channel on the credits?”
Slug also feels this neutral theme allows Whenever to act as a sort of palate-cleanser after the last three, somewhat thematically-linked, albums (2014’s Southsiders, 2016’s Fishing Blues and 2018’s Mi Vida Local).
“The last couple of albums were kind of a series of albums and this one broke out of the series and now I can go any direction. That’s happened before. When we put out Seven’s Travels, I felt like well after that, man, we go anywhere. And we ended up doing my favorite [2005’s Oh, You Can’t Imagine How Much Fun We’re Having], right?” he says.
“So here I have one of those points in my life. I’m like, ‘Oh my God, this opens me up to being free again,’” he continues. “The stuff I’m working on now… I don’t even know what this music is that we’re making right now, man. So I’m kind of excited about that. I think it all worked out really well.”
It was almost like a break from himself, allowing him to try on a different outfit. Now the entire wardrobe is fair game.
“I think that’s important, man, because we have a tendency to make music that is very self-aware and takes itself real fing serious. Now, to be fair, the album does get a little bit serious and darker in the last half, but like there’s one song where the chorus I’m, like, ‘I can’t believe I used to love you and you don’t believe I used to love you.’ It’s like it’s mocking my own career,” he said. “So even the serious songs are not to be taken too serious, and I feel like that’s a huge thing for us because it allows me to go in so many different directions next.”
Slug’s perspective on what he does is changing. No longer in the summer of his career, he’s checking out a different tone.
“I still want to do things that inspire other people. But now I’m less concerned about inspiring them with my lyrical miracle skills, or I’m less concerned about inspiring them to push the envelope and live on the edge, and I’m more interested in inspiring them to be happy dude,” said Slug. “That’s not to say I’m running around happy but at least now I know that that’s the goal.”
Atmosphere, with The Lioness, DJ Keezy, and Nikki Jean. 7 p.m. $29.50. The Knitting Factory Concert House, 416 S. Ninth St., Boise, bo.knittingfactory.com.