God Loves Ugly

Independent hip-hop seems as if it's edging ever closer to that other kind of indie music, the kind that features pasty, forlorn vocalists delivering ironic, self-deprecating lyrics about love and loss and hurt and fear. At least, that's what's going on with Atmosphere's latest, God Loves Ugly, which reads like a hypothetical Wu-Tang Clan album that features Thom Yorke as the guest MC.

Since the late '90s, Atmosphere -- essentially the alter ego of MC Slug, aka Sean Daley -- has been leading the charge of Midwestern indie hip-hop artists in search of recognition. For his latest effort, Slug's beats are provided by Ant, whose prowess as producer is evident. Reminiscent of the RZA's sophisticated approach to minimalism, Ant's beats act like funky haiku that modestly set the stage for his lyricist's couch trip.

In sharp contrast to most other MCs, Slug is all about self-consciously breaking down, rather than constructing, a front. This leads to a painful identity crisis of sorts, in which the MC is caught between his selfish desire for notoriety and some kind of larger artistry that never stops tugging his sleeve. Hence the manic nature of the album, which features confessional tracks like "F*@k You Lucy," on which Slug raps "Discretion is the name of my cement-feathered bird," as well as more bombastic tunes like "The Bass and the Movement," on which Slug asks us to "make noise for the women that swallow stuff." This manic tone is consistent throughout. "I wear my scars like the rings on a pimp," Slug tells us on the album's title track. Indeed, those scars are indicative of the pain Daley carries around with him, but the way in which he proudly wears them like rhinestones are what makes God Loves Ugly shine.

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