Despite the sweet baby-pic cover, Atmosphere's seventh full-length album easily comes across as the Minneapolis hip-hop kingpins' most stoned-sounding record. Take the song "Millennium Dodo," in which Slug delivers a slow-baked rhyme about suffering cottonmouth alongside trippy guitar and organ licks and references to WKRP's Les Nessman and his late pal Eyedea. Like the whole middle of this record, the song drags on as mind-numbingly as a midnight screening of "The Wall."
There's a lot of weird, opaque music throughout "The Family Sign." Even the songs about Slug's new family have a bizarre tint. "She's Enough" is an uncomfortably candid love song you could envision the rapper getting slapped upside the head over. And the penultimate track "Something So" is so damn touching, you might miss the fact that it sounds a lot like Hendrix's "Little Wing."
In the end, the only tracks that will likely go down as staples at live shows -- where the group remains as focused as ever -- are the more up-tempo ones, including the sing-songy "Ain't Nobody" and the reggae-spiked "Just for Show." But most of this record sounds tailored to couches instead of dance floors. Yes, including a psychiatrist's couch.Low, "C'mon"
Sounding like he got most of his electric wah-wahs out last year with Retribution Gospel Choir, Alan Sparhawk returns to his more somber and contemplative group sounding rejuvenated and relaxed. "C'mon" is Sparhawk and his wife, Mimi Parker, at their loveliest, harmonious, softest best -- which is not to say this 10-song set lacks the darker elements of their previous two Sub Pop albums. The languid "Done" is so gorgeous, you hate to listen too close and learn what exactly has met its end. And the stormier "Witches," which finds Sparhawk steaming over Al Green imitators and swinging a baseball bat at nightmarish visions, is as dark a song as the apocalypse-ready rocker has ever written.
So what exactly are the pretty parts? Parker's turn at the mike in "Especially Me" is priceless, the single "Try to Sleep" has the classic Low elegance, and the eight-minute epic "Nothing but Heart" sounds like Neil Young's "Down by the River" recast as a church choral piece. All told, the dark and the light on this album come together in perfect harmony.
(Low's CD party: 7 p.m. Sat., First Avenue. 18 & older. $20. Halloween, Alaska opens.)