Atmosphere – The Day Before Halloween

4 out of 5

Label: Rhymesayers

Produced by: Ant

I am so up and down with Atmosphere releases, and Rhymesayers’ more recent-ish practice of doing questionable rereleases and limited singles and remixes that can make following an artist quite expensive, that Slug’s / Ant’s practice of doing yearly drops has made my ups and downs even more tumultuous; it becomes a question of diminishing returns. When you meet an announcement of a new album with “again?” as opposed to excitement… something’s up.

And The Day Before Halloween being a themed holiday release, kinda sorta happening out of the blue, and accompanied by a short film no less, felt very much in support of my hesitations – i.e. that this would be something of a phoned-in release, or more of an art project perhaps, and not exactly satisfying that very tiny Atmosphere itch I have for some of their albums amidst a broad catalogue.

Surprise: while it’s not not an art project, and the lyrics often trawl in very, very, very familiar Slug territory, The Day Before Halloween’s off-brand structure and style turns out to be one of my favorite Atmos projects in a while, quite endlessly relistenable and working as a nervy bit of backpackery on its own, or gaining more framing when paired with that film.

The Halloween theming isn’t necessarily overt, but encourages Slug to stick to topics of paranoia and societal disgust, which surely sounds like nothing new, but it’s only on a couple tracks that he slips into truly rote territory – otherwise this feels more like story-telling, sticking with that soundtrack concept, than the MCs usual self-narration approach. And while that doesn’t equal new depth in the writing, that level of remove is a fresh perspective, and is paired with an interesting kind of offhand delivery, as well. Again, here and there I’ll roll my eyes at ‘heard it before’ moments, but the vast majority of the time I was really into this, and impressed by how a more chill, less flashy style gave the lyrics intrigue.

This is combined with Ant’s approach for the music, which is very digital, and very tweaked – lots of altered vocals, lots of synths. The album rarely picks up, but that’s fine: a lot of this feels more atmospheric than intended as singles, and several tracks are short, sub-2 minutes, acting as interstitials. On the one hand, nothing immediately stands out; on the other, this is stuff that sneaks up on you – slow rolls you into bobbing your head, and never once kicks you out of the listen. It’s an immersive recording.

So I’m very, very down with this: if a yearly release schedule is going to encourage Atmos to try out some different structural approaches, and those shakeups produced fun, interesting lil’ projects like The Day Before Halloween, please, give me more.