Danny Brown is a whiner, a yelper, a creep, a hot head and a crude, cartoony ad for all things sex-drugs-‘n’-rap. Good. It’s been that hotly humorous, high-pitched chatter—and his scorched-earth musicality on XXX, Old, and now Atrocity Exhibition—that has put him on display as a master of pain and self-medicated mien. Only this time, his scream is more Munch-ian in its scarred depths and the production guiding his catchy melodies and riveting beats is more dense and dramatic than it was on past releases.
Still, the spare electronic sound packed to the album’s gills is closer to XXX than the somewhat-more-mainstream Old, and Atrocity Exhibition is art as claustrophobic-nightmare-tipping-point (“I’m sweatin’ like I’m in a rave / Been in this room for three days,” Brown screeches during “Downward Spiral“). But take note of the fact that, unlike with past discretions/secretions/regressions, he’s not at a party—he’s losing his head at home.
It’s a harsh, machete-sharp, dissonant sound and scabrous vision at work on Atrocity Exhibition (named for a totem within the Joy Division catalog—itself a J. G. Ballard reference), yet one geared for entertainment—gleeful arts and farts—rather than just morose, soul-searching evisceration. Think of it as the glad-to-be-unhappy vibe of Woody Allen gone hard rhythm and wild electro and with an occasionally slurry, always halting rasp. Principally produced by Brit knob twiddler Paul White, there is much in the production’s brand of burnt-sienna electronica to believe that the twosome have been listening to classic New Wave records from Depeche Mode to early Nine Inch Nails—only sped up and even more pained.
“Ain’t no water, how a flower gon’ grow?” Brown spits through the crunched-loose-leaf beat and weird saxophone sounds of “When It Rain,” inserting personal desperation into this not-so-sweet vision of flora. Brown certainly does seem to want out of the prison, real or imagined, that he’s created for himself within the cold concrete walls of “Tell Me What I Don’t Know.” But like the soul-stealing likes of “Lost” and “White Lines,” Brown sounds as if he’s willing to stay put if only he can keep getting good drugs.
While there is less sex on Atrocity Exhibition than on previous Danny Brown albums (save for the rattling “Pneumonia”) and more solitary lonely sensations, songs such as “Get Hi” (featuring B-Real) and the massive achievement of “Really Doe” portray Brown as a man looking for some company in his grand debauch. Listening to Brown, Ab-Soul, Kendrick Lamar, and Earl Sweatshirt go at the composer’s aggressive jittery sound is like listening in to a party that’s bound to get busted by the police. Good—at least Brown won’t be alone anymore.