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Atmosphere
Headshots: Se7en
Rhymesayers

Originally available as a limited cassette release, Headshots: Se7en was recorded between Atmosphere’s debut album, Overcast!, and the subsequent Lucy Ford EP. The tracks have been recently remastered, but they still retain the bedroom studio four-track sound that fans of the cassette know and love.

People who dig Atmosphere’s later stuff may be left a bit wanting after listening to this, however, as it represents a transition between Slug’s earlier battle rap stylings and his newer, more introspective work. And Ant’s production seems considerably less fleshed out than later efforts, probably due to less sophisticated equipment. Still, there is much to be said for the intimacy of this recording. It’s a welcome relic.

For aspiring MCs and producers in Missoula it should also be a clarion call to get off the couch, set down the bong for a few minutes and crunch out some material. If Atmosphere’s work proves anything, it’s that you don’t have to have access to a million-dollar studio or a fast-talking agent to become successful in underground hip-hop. These Minnesota kids worked from the ground up to create one of the best-selling acts in the genre, and Headshots: Se7en is a glimpse of those grassroots before they hit it big. (Adam Fangsrud)

Atmosphere headlines Friday, April 15, at The Other Side. The show sold out in a matter of hours, but those lucky enough to score tickets should know doors open at 9 PM. Grayskul opens.

Grayskul
Deadlivers
Rymesayers

Grayskul—an offshoot of the Seattle and Portland-based Oldominion collective, a hip-hop group of more than 20 MCs and producers—takes a dark turn on their full-length debut, Deadlivers. The album features MCs Onry Ozzborn and JFK and bass player Rob Castro, each assuming a comic-book superhero persona to help take the world back from villains who wreak havoc on normal citizens. At the same time they’re saving mankind, they spend equal time reveling in the pain they cause their adversaries. It’s a dim, sinister story, but Ozzborn (playing the role of Reason), JFK (Fiddle Back Recluse) and Castro (Phantom Ghost El Topo) pull off quite a tale—not to mention album.

Standout tracks include “Adverserial Theatre of Justice,” showcasing the MC duo’s penchant for serving justice as benevolent hit men. In the more humorous track “Vixen,” Reason and Recluse regret saving some irritating ladies from the clutches of evil. Throughout Deadlivers, Seattle producer Mr. Hill supplies the backbone to the dark and brooding tracks. His knack for using minor key string and horn samples is a nice touch against his up-tempo beats.

Guest appearances by Aesop Rock, Mr. Lif, Canibus and Abstract Rude prove that Grayskul’s style hasn’t gone unnoticed by the top players in underground hip-hop. (Ira Sather-Olson)

Grayskul plays with Atmosphere at The Other Side Friday, April 15. The opening act for the sold-out show is P.O.S., and doors open at 9 PM.

Strata
Strata
Windup Records

If the name Strata implies layers of complexity, it’s only the first sliver of this eponymous album that makes the epithet fitting. The quartet, hailing from northern California, kicks things off with “Piece by Piece,” a sharply drafted parcel of melodic Nu-metal. It’s a promising start with the potent imagery of lyrics like “let’s split me open at the seams/and rip out everything inside/make room for all these new machines.” Not quite political, but marching on the brink of social commentary, the song gives a nod to old metal while slithering into angelic laments.

Unfortunately, the next couple of tracks distinguish themselves in lesser degrees before the album topples into the prolonged ho-hum minor-key cadences of every other MTV metal band.

Still, there are moments that speak to Strata’s aptitude. From guttural screams to breathy and barbed falsetto, Eric Victorinio wins a gold star for enterprising vocal acrobatics. His otherworldly wailing in “Trustkilltrust” is impressive, and “The Panic,” with the line, “you were wrong/and I was right by your side,” signifies that someone in Strata knows how to write if they put their minds to it.

Musical depth awaits them, if only they’d dig beneath the surface. (Erika Fredrickson)

Strata and Crossfade play the Wilma Saturday, April 16. Tickets are $15 at the door and $13 in advance from Ticketweb. The show starts at 8 PM.

de Sol
de Sol
Curb Records

The component elements of this Latin-infused jam band make them sound better on paper than through headphones. On paper, the read is intriguing: Seven musicians based out of Asbury Park, N.J., with a solid reputation for dance-inducing live shows, a heavy dose of Afro-Cuban rhythms, and a lead guitarist, Soto, who is obviously a fan of Carlos Santana. When translated to an album, however, they come across as corny and flat as a stale Tostito.

Don’t take my word for it: The lifeless sound of their first commercial album prompted Curb Records to all of a sudden refer to the late 2004 release as a “test copy” and hurry the band back to the studio for a complete remix. The “real” album is due out in August, but it’s unlikely any quick fixes will overcome some fatal flaws. For one, Albie Monterrosa’s voice isn’t very alluring (admittedly, jam bands never really rely on strong lead vocalists) and his lyrics are fruitless—“Chica de Miami” offers: “When I got on stage that’s when I made contact/She’s a hard to get record company contract.”

At least on the original recording, the band’s reputed musicianship and energy fail to emerge to help cover the warts. The band’s only hope is that Curb works some sort of miracle in the studio, or that the live shows are redeeming, because the “test” album offers nothing sunny. (Skylar Browning)

de Sol opens for the Legendary Wailers Wednesday, April 20, at the Wilma Theatre. Tickets cost $20, and the show kicks off at 8 PM.

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