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A reversion to type after the overly morose The Family Sign, Atmosphere have achieved a successful, if not entirely satisfying regeneration.

On the surface Slug and Ant haven't allowed recent success to do much more than fund a rigorous touring and release schedule; Southsiders takes a happy step back from the age-obsessed personal crisis of their previous album, engaging once again with the more viperous subject matter Slug thrives on - failed relationships, deeply held principles of responsibility and trust, and alcohol. The beats are as sturdy as ever. The group have been developing their own blues and country-inflected rap sound since even before watershed release Seven's Travels, touring with musicians and introducing elements of instrumentation into live shows. At that point the duo's focus began to noticeably shift from traditional hip-hop sample-backed beats to unaffected live instrumentation.

So mid career anthem 'Trying to Find a Balance' became 'Puppets' from When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint That Shit Gold, replacing the former bluster with laid-back, grandstanding piano couplets. The squeaky pitching of 'Bird Sings Why The Caged I Know' became lap steel guitar on 'Painting'. A knowing movement towards some kind of perceived musical maturity seemed to be taking place. Southsiders keeps this progression rolling, with wah organ and guitar prominent alongside Ant's always hammering kick and snare on tracks like 'Camera Thief'. Added to this template are the Oliver Nelson synthesiser funk of 'Star Shaped Heart' and a couple of embarrassing Eminem-y singalong choruses ('The World Might Not Live Through The Night' is a particular low point).

The subject matter is familiar. Criticism of Slug's 'emo rap' has haunted him since Lucy Ford, with his unashamed take-downs of ex-lovers and their new chosen others held up as evidence. We all know Slug can be childish - it's part of the persona he has tirelessly and deliberately created for himself. So the dark and hammy one-liners ("I hope your new boyfriend gets cancer in his dick") and worm-turning, self questioning line enders ("Most of this garbage I write / that these people seem to like") sit alongside social comment depicting his home city's alcoholic underclass and many moments of real tenderness. There are a few very telling lines. "I gave a fuck when I was a lot younger" from 'Star Shaped Heart' feels a little on the nose. Rhymes like "it used to be rock / now it's roll" testify to the fin de siècle attitude that dominates. The rapper rouses himself for the polemical rhymes on 'Fortunate', but peters out with the frankly depressing "and all the life we wasted trying to make some bread / might have been better spent trying to raise the dead."

That said, there's a lot to like. As with Coen Brothers films and others' films, an average Atmosphere album is still several shades better than a 'great' Drake album. The title track sounds like an Edan offcut from Beauty and the Beat, with tremolo-ing distorted guitar and a steady, single chord bass line. It brings much needed urgency to the midpoint, which 'Bitter' keeps up along with one of their less embarrassing sing along chorus.

So I find myself caught in two minds. I don't know why I find Southsiders such a hard like. It's almost everything an Atmosphere album always is; Ant's beats are tight, the live instrumentation takes some nice new turns and Slug's rhymes are good enough. Aye, there's the rub. I've come to expect every Slug line to zing, and too many here just don't carry enough dynamic, with a delivery that approaches lazy in the album's worst moments - like they went with the first take of every vocal. The pain is felt most keenly on the most emotionally resonant beats, notably 'Mrs Interpret': it's the kind of track you feel no one else in rap could produce, excepting perhaps long time collaborator Mr Dibbs. So why does Slug sound bored?

Southsiders is extremely competent, and has enough really great beats to more than make up for the general air of insouciance. It's good. It just ain't essential.

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