Albums of the Year 2016: #10 Danny Brown – Atrocity Exhibition

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Atrocity Exhibition saw Danny Brown doubling down on the most unique elements of his sound, and producing his best album to date in the process. This is a guy who has had one of the most unusual and instantly recognizable voices in hip-hop ever since his breakout 2011 album XXX, but until now hasn’t quite been able to utilise it to make the definitive statement he always seemed capable of. Atrocity Exhibition is most certainly that statement – on this album Danny takes the unhinged and yelpy delivery he is known for and applies it his weirdest, darkest and most intriguing music yet.

Sonically, the album doesn’t sound like very much else. Even in the realms of contemporary experimental hip-hop, which is largely of the industrial variety, there isn’t much of a precedent. Atrocity Exhibition is bleak and psychedelic but also eclectic, taking in a variety of styles and filtering them through Danny’s strung out musical vision. ‘Tell Me What I Don’t Know’ could be some kind of alternative-universe G-funk in which Dr Dre and Snoop were both Satan worshippers, and the beat on ‘Really Doe’ is one of the most evil boom-bap tunes I’ve heard in my life.

The batshit insane ‘Aint it Funny’ is possibly my favourite track on the record: a lysergic stomp full of strange squelchy bass and dissonant honking trumpets. The rhythm of this song is just so damn infectious and weird that I can’t help but get excited every time I come to it in the tracklisting, and the way Danny’s flow rides over the unusual tempo of the beat is masterful. Throughout the entirety of Atrocity Exhibition, in fact, Danny’s flow and delivery prove to be his greatest skill.

While his lyrics are effective and his writing always solid, there are a few moments on the album where Danny approaches his subject matter from an angle that feels a bit too familiar. The topics of drugs, addiction and emptiness arise on nearly every song here, but I don’t find this to be too glaring of a flaw when taking into consideration the amount of variety Danny throws into his delivery. From the punchy, staccato flow of ‘Rolling Stone’ to the frantic ‘Dance in the Water’ or the defeated mumble of ‘From the Ground’, there are a lot of different tones, cadences and ideas to be found in the albums vocals.

The production, a lot of which comes from UK producer Paul White (whose collaboratiothis year with Open Mike Eagle, Hella Personal Film Festival, was also a very strong release), has just as many ideas packed in. There are some really bold musical choices found in these songs: those trumpets in ‘Aint it Funny’, the squeaky keyboards in ‘When it Rain’, or the spooky organs and unusual clicking percussion in ‘Golddust’. Danny might paint himself as beaten down and strung out throughout Atrocity Exhibition, but the music he and his producers have put together here is full of confidence.

Atrocity Exhibition is the work of an artist who really understands what it is that sets them apart from the crowd. On this album Danny Brown seemed hellbent on pushing as far as possible into the darkest corners of his twisted, drug-addled creativity, and in doing so put together one of the most unique hip-hop albums of the year.

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