You can’t blame Slug for being frustrated: When The Family Sign dropped in 2011, it proved to be one of Atmosphere’s most divisive albums, with the focus on domesticity and the continued emphasis on mellower, live-band instrumentation being some of the sticking points even among longtime fans. And while early single “Bitter” makes Sean Daley’s touchy irritation crystal clear (“Came home everybody wanna judge now/ Don’t let them see you celebrate your touchdown”), there’s more to Southsiders than either that hater-hater’s anthem or the fatigued-sounding Family Sign hinted at.
Named for the hardscrabble region of Minneapolis they’ve long claimed as stomping grounds, you could call it a return to Atmosphere’s roots if there was ever any indication they’d pulled them up too far. The blistering war-party title track, the tipsy soul of whisky-drinker’s lament “Arthur’s Song,” and the gradual boil of ballad-turned-banger “January on Lake Street” feature Slug in classic Bukowski-via-De La lyrical form, with Ant flipping the best permutation yet of the live-band sound he’s been working with since 2008′s When Life Gives You Lemons…. That helps the album’s nuances dig deep, as the celebrations blend into the anxieties (“The World Might Not Last Through the Night”), criticism shadowboxes with empathy (“I Love You Like a Brother”), and a remembrance of friend and Rhymesayers peer Michael “Eyedea” Larson (“Flicker”) is run through with a bare-wire thread of survivor’s guilt.