By Daniel Paiz
Different times call for different creative endeavors, and Atmosphere’s The Day Before Halloween is definitely a spooky departure. From the opening track it feels like a different era has been entered, one that’s either an alternate reality or, perhaps until now undiscovered footage a la Cloverfield. The biggest departure for me is how sonically jagged this project is. The good news is I fully appreciate rocky, distorted, and bumpy production.
This sonic landscape might take the listener from an abandoned warehouse to a lightly visited planet in the outer realms. It facilitates focus onto the rhymes so that you pay even further attention, seeing if you might uncover what’s going on. All of that is what I’m hearing in just the first three songs.
The Day Before Halloween fills the headphones with anticipation
Upon first listen, finding a narrative is the proverbial needle in a haystack. There is some distortion throughout, but not in the literal sense. Instead, think of something being created to jar you or rattle your sense of what’s going on; that’s kind of the initial direction I’m hearing throughout. Rock meets Industrial meets cinematic soundtracks are the influences that I’m hearing scattered amongst Ant’s beat production. Dystopian and alternative only echo on the edges of each track.
The rhymes aren’t necessarily abstract, but feel very open despite the various happenings in each song. It’s a build-up of sorts to Halloween, almost making me think that the day before is indeed worse than October 31st itself. The anticipation, the duress one might have about either life or the holiday itself bleeds into several rhymes. There’s a sense of both brooding and restlessness; the opening track can best explain what I mean.
The Day Before Halloween
The opening track Where The Road Forks wastes no time in establishing the setting. The opening sounds guide the listener into a 80s Stranger Things-esque setting that quickly leaves Hawkins. What I’m appreciating about this album beyond the sonic landscape is the mundane uncertainty that kind of resonates in certain areas. The opening salvo from Slug has a section that sticks out to me when making this point:
The knife is open, you're holding it up to your throat, taillights broken, they don't know 'cause you're pulling a [?] only take what you need, everything else gets left, But if we gotta die tonight, I might take a couple of extra breaths. I've never been a born loser, time got no remorse watch over those storm troopers, they'll force you to use force -Where The Road Forks, Slug, verse 1
Lyrics are not yet released for this song, as the album drops on October 30th, fittingly enough. After re-listening to this section multiple times, the picture splayed before me is one in the moment. Contemplating different scenarios, realizing that these decisions now will mostly negate all choices prior to this night.
It’s that “is this really happening?” moment one has; at the same time, it feels like reflection and a hypothetical crashing into one another. The proverbial fork in the road is greeting the listener into this project. The peculiarities along the way are quite a sound to behold.
Weaving through the tracks
The loosely fitting connection between all the tracks are all the things one might expect to witness on Halloween. The dark and devious lore of yesteryear in a contemporary package in Space Is Safe. Psychological thrillers packaged into common life events in She Loves Me Not and Blotter Acid Reflux Syndrome. I’ll leave the other tracks up to your imagination so as not to spoil them.
There’s also a movie that’s attached to this project. I’m not one to play spoiler, especially for a film that isn’t available to the masses until late Thursday eve/Friday morning (depending on your location). If I’m not mistaken, Rhymesayers’ Twitch channel will be streaming Thursday night with Slug; I might tune into that to see how people react to this thing.
Halloween kind of feels like an underrated holiday with how much you can dive into, and this film does that. The aesthetic fits this album well, but to be honest I largely didn’t see these visual choices in my head when I listened. That’s likely due to the abstract imagery which permits the listener to envision their own scenarios.
What’s oddly nice about this project is that it reminds of Black Mirror and other direly painful shows out there. Shows like Mirror deliver uncomfortable truths about society, but also give a level of suspense where from the start you might guess the theme, but not the outcome. The song titles on The Day Before Halloween do that as well, and are only loosely related to the overall theme.
More importantly, you don’t know what to expect. The only expectation you can really go into this album is the unexpected. Slug raps on a variety of topics while also being slightly aloof and abstract; but only ever so slightly. There’s one track where I was like “okay, this is totally the Atmosphere that made me a fan.” But then as The Future Is Disgusting continues playing, it feels like we’re witnessing Slug and Ant dropped into a generic Halloween scene and it goes back to feeling unexpected. There’s a rarified air to that which doesn’t exist in a majority of music put out today.
Somehow, Atmosphere made a Halloween album that feels like an abstractly retro throwback tape. It’s a risk I’m still appreciating on repeat.