When Life Gives You Mariah Carey

As a founding member of the genre dubbed (by the press) "indie rap," Minneapolis duo Atmosphere has always had a special place in critics' hearts. But with the release of their latest album, When Life Gives You Lemons, You Paint That Shit Gold, they can claim a piece of the general public's as well. The CD debuted at number five on the Billboard 200 upon its release, exceeding everyone's expectations.

"It leads me to believe that our fans decided not to download the record this time, so really they kind of get all the credit for that," Atmosphere's MC, Slug, reflects by phone. He adds, with his characteristic humor: "Also, many times those first-week numbers reflect who's more popular than who that week. But if you look at the other records that came out that week, we weren't really competing with anybody. Mariah Carey had the number one spot. And I refuse to believe that anywhere in the world was there some kid in a record store holding a copy of the Mariah Carey album and holding a copy of the Atmosphere album and asking themselves which one they're going to buy."

The group has had busy months since Lemons came out, protesting the hometown-held Republican National Convention via a giant concert that also included Tom Morello, Billy Bragg, Steve Earle, and others, and touring like crazy. Slug says the duo's fans have responded well in concert to Lemons tracks, which tend to be more esoteric and less personal than Atmosphere's previous songs. "It's such mad-scientist work, you know? You're learning how to put your chemicals and equations together in order to get that elixir. I've been seeing how people respond to hearing 'Puppets' early in the set as opposed to late in the set, or how they responded to hearing 'In Her Music Box' at the end of the set as opposed to the beginning."

Slug adds that he and producer Ant are readying a new project for release, perhaps sometime in the coming months. "It's not really a real album; it's a record that was made as an exercise to making Lemons, much like [the free Internet release] Strictly Leakage. I might just release it for free online again. It's like Strictly Leakage but it's more serious. Strictly Leakage was a fun album, but this one will get its polish on."

One presumes that's how Mariah Carey would do things.

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Ben Westhoff
Contact: Ben Westhoff