Racking Up Plays: “Just for Show” by Atmosphere

These are the posts where I gush about some song that I’ve got a huge crush on at the moment, and you put up with it and listen because you’re a good friend.

“Just for Show,” Atmosphere

These dudes actually chose the names Slug and Ant? (via Myspace)

It’s Minnesota Hip Hop Day here at All The City Lights, apparently. In addition to reflecting on last night’s excellent show featuring members of the Doomtree collective, I’ve been spending a lot of time this this week listening—more than any other track—to the new single from Atmosphere of Doomtree’s (friendly) rival Twin Cities crew, Rhymesayers.

Despite being one of the most successful alternative hip-hop groups of the last decade, I hadn’t listened to Atmosphere prior to the release of its seventh LP, The Family Sign, last month. That means I’m coming to this song with fresh ears, unlike most critics who collectively agreed that the album was more sparse, moody and dark than previous releases, to its detriment. That may be true, but this single definitely did the trick of piquing my interest in the group.

Of course, I was already sold on half of the duo. I was familiar with and a big fan of Ant’s production for Us, the 2009 album by Atmosphere’s labelmate Brother Ali. On this song he unleashes a heavy dose of reggae guitar and a storm of organ that matches the raging relationship drama chronicled in Slug’s lyrics.

“Just for Show” is a document of a nasty break-up, the type of quarrel I’d sometimes hear outside my window on warm summer nights when I lived within walking distance of the downtown bars, with shouts of, “Get out my face!” and “You wanna threaten me?” There’s a similar voyeuristic thrill to hearing Slug string together such an aggressive set of syllables as, “I won’t stress about anything projected out of your passive-aggressive mouth.” Yet he also lets slip little details and nuances—the exasperated advice of his friends to “just let her leave!”—that reveal a vulnerability under all that posturing. When the chorus comes around and he sings, “You don’t really want me to go,” it sounds like nothing more than pitiful denial.

Of course, that pity might just be the result of having a sad-eyed golden retriever serve as Slug’s proxy in the video.

Atmosphere will headline a show along with Aesop Rock, Rob Sonic, DJ Big Wiz, Blueprint, Grieves, Budo, Sab the Artist and DJ Abilities at 6 p.m. Saturday at the William Randolph Hearst Greek Theatre on Gayley Road on the UC Berkeley Campus. Tickets are $35.

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