27th September 2016 via Warp
Danny Brown is a different type of hip-hop artist. From naming his latest album, Atrocity Exhibition, after the opening track on Joy Division’s Closer, to collaborating with The Avalanches and Vampire Weekend, it’s obvious that this album would be distinct.
Atrocity Exhibition is the musical equivalent of taking the maddest thing in the world, giving it a load of cocaine and then blasting it out into space: chaotic and brilliant. One of the record’s greatest assets is how incredibly dense it is, slowly unravelling its secrets with each listen. Danny Brown’s lyrics are hilarious as ever, with lines such as “So much coke, just to sniff, need a ski lift” being present throughout. Yet, his subject matter is often varied, spanning drugs, Detroit, and death. The track ‘Today’, a song about black men dying young, either from drugs or gun violence, is truly heartfelt.
The music is fast-paced and erratic; ‘Downward Spiral’ sounds like a desert mirage, ‘Ain’t It Funny’ is evocative of a Death Grips song, while ‘Dance In The Water’ is clearly influenced by his work on The Avalanches’ ‘Frankie Sinatra’. The instrumentation is also extremely varied on every track. From the spidery guitar riff on ‘When It Rain’, to Kelela’s Bjork-esque vocals on ‘From The Ground’ and the xylophone on ‘Really Doe’, there is much to like on this album. Considering how dense and experimental Atrocity Exhibition is, it seems to be no surprise that the record shares a label with the output of Aphex Twin and Flying Lotus. Brown’s high pitched, whiny rapping style even has the same bratty, yet likeable quality that much of Aphex Twin’s music has.
If there are any problems with Atrocity Exhibition, it is the couple of tracks that break the album’s flow. ‘Pneumonia’ is slower and less intense than the rest of the album—and much less interesting. The same riff is repeated throughout, without enough variation to be as great as the other songs. It’s far from awful, but is definitely the runt of the litter. While we’re at it: ‘Hell For It’ shouldn’t close the album. It’s very good, great even, but when you have the slow comedown of ‘Get Hi’, a Talking Heads ballad dying for David Byrne vocals, we already have the perfect final track. Otherwise, this album would have a near-perfect flow.
The best representation of the album is the cover, which perfectly encapsulates the music. It’s surreal, colourful, disturbing, and funny. Yet, most importantly, it’s bloody brilliant.