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.”