Ladies love Slug, but he's an atypical hip-hop heartthrob. While LL Cool J and Ja Rule bare their chiseled flesh and cynically employ sugary R&B hooks in an attempt to win female fans, Slug specializes in a bracing vulnerability that bares his troubled emotions while wrapping them in invisible barbed wire. He's the kind of artist women ostensibly want to save, all conspicuous emotional scars and tortured romanticism. Without much media attention or radio play, Atmosphere–a Minnesota-based hip-hop duo consisting of Slug and Ant–has helped build a strong Midwestern scene, one inspired live gig at a time. In the process, it's transformed Slug's Rhymesayers label into a major force in independent hip-hop. Given Atmosphere's roots in punk rock's DIY aesthetic, it's not surprising that the group decided to release its latest disc through esteemed punk label Epitaph, even after being courted by a slew of majors. It's also not surprising that the hard-touring duo's Seven's Travels is something of a road album, a 19-track survey of one-night stands both musical and sexual. The slippery nature of human connections continues to provide a major theme, as Slug surveys a landscape of lost souls with a keen understanding that one-night stands have a way of exacerbating the loneliness they're meant to alleviate. Though leavened with self-deprecation and lacerating wit, Slug's unsparing self-analysis can feel a little solipsistic and oppressive, particularly over the course of the album's 70-minute run time. Like nearly all lengthy rap opuses, Seven's Travels would benefit from judicious editing, but it's easy to like an album that stumbles around the country, bleary-eyed and hung over, and then ends by delivering a big, sloppy sonic kiss to Minnesota in particular, and the Midwest in general. Uncompromising, intimate, and uneven, Seven's Travels is an album with 100,000 miles on it, happy to be home but eager to head back out on the road.