For the past few weeks, the album Fishing Blues has swam around in my mind. I’m not quite sure how I feel about it. To put this album in context I feel that Southsiders, Atmosphere’s previous title was a phenomenal album. It oozed style, had a cohesive sense of self, and both beats and lyrics spoke to me. So when Fishing Blues hit without much fanfare I was over the moon with joy.
I think part of what haunts me about praising this album is the first few tracks. They’re a little bit upbeat and a little bit kooky, but it doesn’t quite gel right with me. Southsiders came out of the box feeling a little bit gritty, which for an album about class is so fitting. Fishing Blues however doesn’t have that binding subject matter, topics tend to focus much more on personal interactions (a theme in all of Atmopshere’s lyrics) and less on overarching power dynamics.
“because A mANNY WITH NO MONEY MADE THE MONEY FEEL THREATENED”
A few songs try and engage in the same way, ‘Pure Evil’ for example is a scathing commentary on police violence towards people of colour (and it couldn’t come at a better place and time). “A little money made him want some protection, Because a Manny with no money made the Money feel threatened” and one particular verse celebrating multiculturalism in America in the following song ‘Perfect’ are examples of Atmosphere at their very best. ‘Chasing New York’ deserves an honourable mention for challenging the tropes of hip hop in general, namely a new found romanticisation of black poverty by white hip hop artists, even if only briefly “I used to be in love with Brooklyn, Way before I ever got to go to Brooklyn, And I really enjoyed the first time I stayed there, But disappointed about how clean them trains were”
However despite the weak start Fishing Blues blossoms, especially Ant’s work with the beats, during the second half of the album. The mixing is sublime and even tracks I don’t find lyrically appealing come to life through the sonic mastery of Ant. The titular track for example has a bassline that reminds me of the soulquarians of the 90’s, Mos Def in particular, and despite no affinity to the lyrics I still find myself queuing it up for replay after replay. I think that’s part of the appeal of Fishing Blues, almost nostalgic in a way, beats lined up like samples from the height of 90’s-2000’s hip hop with a fresh approach.
the WEAK START DRAGS DOWN MY PERCEPTION OF THE ENTIRE ALBUM
I can’t help but feel though if this was my first engagement with Atmopshere I wouldn’t be hooked (ironic for an album named after fishing). The weak start drags down my perception of the entire album, and that’s such a shame because it has moments of shining beauty. If you’ve never heard Atmosphere before I would wholeheartedly recommend ‘Sugar’, it’s maybe their best song in my humble opinion. However, that’s what pains me so much about this album, it has their best work, and also some of their worst work. That being said however – even at their worst they’re still serviceable, but mere acceptability when placed next to greatness only sours the entire thing.