Slug, leader of Atmosphere, one of underground hip-hop's biggest talents, doesn't write exclusively about his romantic troubles -- he has other concerns. But a shaky love life as well as the depression and self-doubt that accompany such failures informed last year's terrific God Loves Ugly; with Seven's Travels, he continues to speak openly about his uncertainty. And when it's not fixating on heartache, Seven's Travels merely analyzes politics, fame, and Slug's awkward place in the world. Each and every topic surprises, thanks to his wit and intense empathy.
While music journalists like to make a big deal out of Slug's ethnicity (he's racially mixed but looks white), Atmosphere records don't need cultural novelty to sell. Rather, their singularity stems from producer Ant's beats and Slug's vocals. Lo-fi enough to satisfy backpackin' heads while funny and honest enough to get him confused with emo, Slug tours the country on Seven's Travels, bemused by Los Angeles, sticking up for his Minnesota roots, and thoroughly confused by girls.
Swingin' and amusing, "Shoes" and "Good Times (Sick Pimpin')" are seductive horribly imperfect tales of romancing. "National Disgrace" draws a smart parallel between the high-profile embarrassments of our country's political/celebrity figures and the common stupidity exhibited by normal Americans. Slug's that rare lyricist -- black or white, hip-hop or singer-songwriter -- who so deftly meshes personal insight with outward-looking commentary. "I'm trying to find a balance/I'm trying to build a balance," he chants near the beginning of Seven's Travels. In a genre too often punctuated by excess, Slug is plenty aware of his limitations and faults. Thank God he is: They're the source of his continually amazing songs.