MOSSING ABOUT: DANNY BROWN – Atrocity Exhibition (2016)

Review by: Jonathan Moss

 

  
Danny Brown is one of the rappers I legitimately worry about. I remember either reading or watching an interview with him where he said he wasn’t into alcohol, he preferred soda, and yet here he is now rapping about alcohol dependence. As well as cocaine. So obviously his addictions are getting worst.

Ah, but enough moralising. This is a solid fucking album! I don’t think it’s quite as out there as people seem to think, but it’s definitely got an interesting aesthetic. Unlike XXX, which in my view is kind of like an American Grime album (reductionist i’ll admit, but it sounds cool), this one is a bit more eclectic. There’s songs that seem trap influenced, psychedelic influenced, and then darker more post-punk influenced stuff, dancey manic stuff and…i don’t know…artsy stuff, I guess. Danny Brown’s high pitched idiosyncratic rapping gives the album an energy which XXX kind of lacks, due to the amount of songs on that towards the end that he rapped with his lower register. Here he only does that a couple of times, and while some have complained, I dont really mind, high pitched Danny is my favourite Danny (low pitched Danny is great as well, don’t get me wrong). What ties the album together is the manic-paranoid edge throughout. Danny sounds unhinged as fuck on this album. Of course, there’s also a playful charm to him, which stops the album from ever sounding proper threatening. So yes, the album is dark and manic, like a criminal on speed, but also kind of colourful, like a criminal on speed sucking a lollipop. 

To start with one of the more positive criticisms of the album, I really really like “Ain’t It Funny”, to the point where I’m sure I’ve listened to it way more than the other songs on the album (and to clarify, the album does have some other fantastic songs, but Christ, “Ain’t It Funny”). It’s very very fast paced, in fact I recently pinned down that one of the reasons I do enjoy it so much is that it reminds me of a hardcore punk song, in terms of sheer aggression and energy. It also has some of the most quotable lines on the album, such as “i could sell honey to a bee”, “the jokes on you but satan the one laughing”, “might need rehab but to me that shit pussy, pray for me y’all cause I dont know what coming to me”, and of course, in Danny’s high pitched yelp, “AIN’T IT FUNNY HOW IT HAPPENS?” The song has a really delirious synth tone and a kick drum that would fit in a heavy metal song, as well as a blurting brass noise. It’s just so noisy and has so much going on, Danny can stop taking drugs now, he can just listen to his own song and have the same effect. Such an intoxicating song.

Other cool songs include the opener “Downward Spiral”, which has a really psychedelic vibe, with some blissed out guitar playing and more great lyricism (“everybody say, you got a lot to be proud of, been high this whole time, don’t realize what I done, cause when I’m all alone, feel like no one care, isolate myself and don’t go nowhere”). Its creepy and slow paced, so it y’know, makes an impression. The second track is pretty good as well, with some emotional lyricism and Danny rapping in his lower pitched voice. Then of course there’s “Really Doe”, which features Kendrick Lamar, Ab-Soul and Earl Sweatshirt. Kendrick’s great on it but I cant help but think the main reason he’s there is because everyone has to have Kendrick on their albums now. Seriously, wait for the next Foo Fighters album, Kendrick will be on it. The song has great production by Black Milk, kind of a menacing twinkling instrument thing, with a dubby bassline, it reminds me of RZAs production on Liquid Swords. Ab-Soul delivers a pretty good verse but Earl’s closing verse is really impressive, great lyrics and tough, confident flow. Pneumonia is a really cool song as well, it has a menacing vibe and a trappy atmosphere, with some ominous bells and a simple, catchy synthline, but also subdued and spooky. The verse features a more calmed down Danny, though still high pitched, while the chorus has some of his screamy rapping. Really druggy dark song, perfect for how a hollywood producer would visualise a dance club. “When It Rain” was the single, and its got some really nice bleepy keyboard playing and unhinged rapping from Danny, and just an uncomfortable twitchy vibe. Maybe a weird choice for a single. “Hell For It” is a great closer, sounding almost like a trip-hop song, with some lovely piano playing which would probably work in a Radiohead song, and a badass chorus.

More severe criticisms would be firstly of the song “Golddust”. To me, the problem with this song is that it sounds like a less inspired “Ain’t it Funny”, even being lyrically similar (both mention aderall). Danny also places it right after “Ain’t it Funny”. I’m not going to call him an idiot for this, the way I see it he probably wanted to maintain the momentum of “Ain’t it Funny” but damn, I just dont like the song that much. There’s something clunky about it. Probably the clunkiness. A more thematic criticism would be that I don’t really think the album is as post-punk influenced as I was hoping it would be. Okay, its named after a Joy Division song, at one point he quotes “this is the way, step inside” and the songs do have a dark atmosphere. But it still sounds too much like a party album, just a much more fucked up avant-garde one! I need more dark sombre basslines and to go back on what I said earlier, I guess his low pitched rapping would be more appropriate for the vibe. Just a lot less enjoyable. However this isnt so much a criticism of the music on the album as what I heard the album sounded like, so if you ignore that it still works really well as a concept and as a cool collection of individual songs. While we’re bitching about the thematics, I dont think this album will be as influential as some of the people on RYM seem to think. It’s definitely a great, original album, but when people say its going to redefine rap in a larger way than Death Grips and Clipping I cant help but respond “nah mate, nah”.

Anyway, check this album out, its really warped (get it?) and good.

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Author: tomymostalas

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