Review: Danny Brown’s ‘Atrocity Exhibition’ Is an Awesome, Bummed-Out Party
The fourth album from Detroit's Danny Brown is the year's most thrilling cry for help. With his 2011 breakthrough XXX, the "Adderall Admiral" built an intense indie fanbase thanks to a quirky off-kilter flow about his various vices. While Atrocity Exhibition is stuffed like a piñata with colorful addictions – "Mimosa for breakfast/With a thick ho from Texas" he sort-of-boasts on the chugging "Golddust" – its also teeming with the isolation, paranoia and regrets you could expect from a rap album named after a Joy Division song. Threesomes come with performance issues and STD anxiety; his copious drug use isn't glamorized but instead punctuated by grinding teeth, itchy throats, nosebleeds and a fear of death. The party-centric life of indie-rap's wild card is painted as more of a permanent hangover.
Produced almost entirely by Paul White, the beatmaker who gave XXX its noise-flecked flavor by doing things like sampling post-punk band This Heat, Atrocity Exhibition plays like a manic, mood-swinging, bullet-sweating nightmare. The songs are short, the beats are drunken and lo-fi, and dark psychedelia breaks the lava lamp via acid rock tones (opener "Downward Spiral) or gamelan clank (the Evian Christ-produced "Pneumonia"). With the broken, tumbling sample style preferred by artists like Madlib and Dilla, Atrocity Exhibition gets extra claustrophobic thanks to White's ill-angled, imperfect layers. Getting high but feeling low, Brown takes a long hard look at himself through a funhouse mirror. As he raps over the swirling, discordant circus "Ain't It Funny, "It's a living nightmare that most of us might share."