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Under the Knife: Danny Brown’s Atrocity Exhibition (2016)

Danny Brown’s 2016 album Atrocity Exhibition has pushed the boundaries of hip hop more so than any record of recent memory, owing to its eclectic sampling, experimental charm and dense, metaphorical lyricism. Brown illustrates an overarching narrative of despair and a portrait of the inner turmoil of drug abuse and its associated mental strain whilst the frenzied sound perfectly supports the prose. The samples draw heavily on krautrock, eerie horror soundtracks, East Asian jazz, avant-garde strains of progressive rock and percussive funk, and each one of them is either extremely esoteric or seldom heard in hip hop. Paul White, The Alchemist, Evian ChristPlaya Haze and Black Milk all performed superbly in digging, producing and flipping the samples, and Brown is one of the few MCs who can match the manic beats equally with his vivid lyricism and madcap flow.

Atrocity Exhibition is an experimental hip hop album plagued with post-punk unease, strewn with manic psychedelia, brandished with bombastic prog-rock alongside flourishes of fragmented techno and anomalous party soundscapes. This article uses the video below from the Youtube page ‘Bandstand’ as a source to explore the artists who were sampled in more depth.

Downward Spiral

‘Oxymoron’ by Guru Guru (1972)

With peculiar resonances emanating from a sample taken from Guru Guru’s ‘Oxymoron’, the first sounds of Atrocity Exhibition let you know that this isn’t your usual hip hop outing. The track opens their third album Känguru from 1972 and it’s a loose and jammy krautrock epic. Paul White does an excellent job of flipping the sample and his method of repeating the warped, rumbling riffs and wobbly percussion add a sense of unease as soon as the album begins.

Really Doe 

‘Fragments of Crystal’ by Giovanni Cristiani (1985) and ‘Get Down’ by The Montereys

Black Milk, who collaborated with Danny on the EP Black and Brown in 2011 produced this squad banger featuring Ab-Soul, Kendrick Lamar and Earl Sweatshirt, some of the hottest talents currently working in hip hop today. The sample of ‘Fragments of Crystal’ by Italian composer Giovanni Cristiani adds a twinkling, shadowy, horror soundtrack like vibe to the song. Underneath it all is the underpinning kick-to-snare funk from The Montereys‘ ‘Get Down’.

Lost

‘Flame of Love (Lian Zhi Huo)’ by Bai Guang (1977)

Seemingly plucked from obscurity, Playa Haze chops up the vocals of East Asian jazz musician Bai Guang for the ode to drug manufacturing ‘Lost’, amounting to a gritty, urbane feeling which matches the dope peddling lyrical content of the track.

Ain’t It Funny

‘Wervin’’ by Nick Mason (1981)

In your face, colossal and impatiently loud brass hits you right in the face as soon as the track drops, the perfect backdrop to Brown’s wistful account of his frenetic regimes. One of the highlights from the record, the sample stems from Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason’s ‘Wervin’’, taken from his debut LP Nick Mason’s Fictitious Sports. This assertive track is a perfect example of the direction Brown went for this album; creating deliberately antagonistic music for his fans that desired a more experimental approach, even though it would alienate the casual listeners. It’s an experimental hip hop fans’ dream come true with a first-rate accompanying video.

Golddust

‘People From Out the Space’ by Embryo (1970) and ‘Atrocity Exhibition’ by Joy Division (1980)

Another krautrock gem was utilised by White here, yet this track by Embryo is much jazzier than the Guru Guru cut. The demented carnival sample is cut with ‘Atrocity Exhibition’ by Joy Division, the titular basis which laid the groundwork for Danny’s overarching concept; an individual’s impaired psychological circumstance displayed for public consumption.

White Lines

‘Dry Land’ by Dave Greenslade (1979) and ‘It’s Your Thing’ by Cold Grits (1969)

Dave Greenslade is perhaps most well-known for his work as an organ player in prog/psych rock group Colosseum, and his solo work saw increased flirtations with electronic music. Taken from his double album with Patrick Woodroffe The Pentateuch of the Cosmogony, the sample on ‘White Lines’ can be heard at 39:10 in. It’s astonishing to think The Alchemist heard this pattern of electronic bleeps and considered using it for a beat considering how abstract, alien and disparate to hip hop it sounds.

The sparse percussive rhythm of ‘It’s Your Thing’ by Cold Grits will be familiar to many hip hop fans thanks to its application in infamous rap tracks such as Kanye West’s ‘Power’ and Kendrick Lamar’s ‘The Blacker the Berry’ to name a few, however, on ‘White Lines’, it echoes, thuds and slogs, sounding almost completely unalike to the upbeat funk of the original.

Pneumonia

‘Black Mamba’ by Cut Hands (2012) and ‘White Room’ by Raz Mesinai (2001)

Industrial, metallic polyrhythmically clattering beats are the backbone of this hauntingly sinister track produced by Evian Christ. Harvested from ‘Black Mamba’ by Cut Hands, a project from musician William Bennett, a figure who’s recognised for his work with noise/power electronics pioneers Whitehouse. The resounding beat is shrouded with the eerie soundscapes of Raz Mesinai’s ‘White Room’ and the ensuing final product gives the feeling of a trip directly down the downward spiral.

Dance In The Water

‘Ungawa Pt. 2 (Way Out Guyana) Remix’ by Pulsallama (1982)

Another little-known track was uprooted here by White, this time he delves into the short lived but highly influential no wave scene and unearths Pulsallama’s ‘Ungawa Pt. 2 (Way Out Guyana) Remix’. The outcome sounds practically like a Talking Heads song, which is unsurprising considering Brown stated they were one of his main influences for this LP.

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From The Ground

‘Sleeping Earth’ by Godley & Creme (1977)

Weird experimental prog taken from a double concept album, the sample (which can be heard at 6:42 into the album/video) is taken from a petite snippet of the ambient part of the track ‘Sleeping Earth’.

When It Rain

‘Pot Au Feu’ by Delia Derbyshire (1968) and ‘Percolator’ by Cajmere (1992)

Delia Derbyshire was a pioneer of electronic music and musique concrète; she was a key figure in the BBC’s radiophonic workshop and is celebrated for composing the Doctor Who theme song.  Additionally, she was member of the psychedelic pop project White Noise who influenced The Orb, Animal Collective and Broadcast. This is one of the most ridiculous and commendable sample flips on Atrocity Exhibition; the way the electronics are utilised as the centrepiece for the track is preposterously mind-blowing.  White takes primitive, experimental electronic music and turns into a party ready jam, one of the production highlights of the album for sure. ‘Pot Au Feu’ was also sampled by the similarly eclectic producer Madlib on ‘Real’ from Piñata, his collaborative album with Freddie Gibbs.

Hailing from Detroit where genres such as techno and ghettotech came to fruition, Brown is no stranger to electronic dance music and the influence results in frequent explorations into electronica throughout Atrocity Exhibition. The impact from regional scenes from nearby states such as Chicago where house spawned is also evident in Danny’s music, even lyrically referencing Cajmere’s ‘Percolator’ here on ‘When It Rain’.

Today

‘B.O.B.’ by OutKast (2000)

“The question is, ‘Do you know five OutKast songs?’ If you don’t know five OutKast songs, then we have a problem. If you don’t know where you come from, you can’t know where you’re going.”

This was Brown’s response to being asked about Lil Yachty’s supposed unfamiliarity with hip hop classics and here, Danny declares the importance of OutKast more-so than any rap artist.

Brown references the Southern hip hop stars on ‘Today’, applying lyrics from their incredible track ‘B.O.B.’ to his own take on hood mentality. Brown testifies OutKast are a huge influence to his music, even going as far as affirming their classic album Aquemini to be one of his favourite records of all time. He’s also referenced them on ‘The Return’ which sampled ‘Return of the ‘G’’ from that very album.

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There are few artists you can compare Danny Brown to in contemporary music; sure Kanye West may employ a tonne of eclectic samples and exert a huge array of influences, Earl Sweatshirt often delves into morbid darkness throughout his work, Vince Staples might also love Joy Division and many Death Grips fans share a similar love for Brown, but there’s nothing quite like Atrocity Exhibition. It’s an album that will be extremely difficult to follow up, surpassing it in quality especially but also bettering the magnitude of experimentalism. The most likely scenario is that Brown will explore his grime influences in more depth [1] or he’ll reject the concepts completely and create a more straightforward hip hop album in a similar manner to Kendrick Lamar’s approach for DAMN..

[1] Danny Brown has affirmed his love for grime on numerous occasions: he’s freestyled over Wiley beats, claims to be massively influenced by Dizzee Rascal, he’s done tracks with Darq E Freaker and Scrufizzer, he’s been interviewed about the genre with Mike Skinner of UK garage act The Streets and his new track for the Silicon Valley track is his most grimey work to date

The Doors: Record Collection

The Doors formed in Los Angeles in 1965 and swiftly became the central attraction of the music world, owing to a string of acclaimed records which blurred the line between psychedelic rock and blues. The band’s lead vocalist Jim Morrison became one of the most iconic frontmen of all time thanks to his poetic lyricism, charisma and controversial onstage antics. Ultimately, he became a martyr of rock‘n’roll excess, struggles with alcohol and substance abuse lead him to his untimely death at a mere 27 years of age.

Although the media often focused on Morrison, The Doors were assuredly a collective effort, with each individual member bringing a distinct style through their instrumentation and song-writing. Ray Manzarek’s unmistakable organs have become inseparable from The Doors’ sound, whilst Robbie Krieger created lysergic guitar soundscapes and the percussion of John Densmore brought a flair of jazz and the exotic; ‘Break On Through (To The Other Side)’ for example, features the distinctive opening bossa nova drum groove rhythms.

As this year marks the 50th anniversary of the release of their début album (which has recently been re-issued as part of a deluxe edition set), it’s only right The Doors discography is explored in full…

Read the rest here!

Originally written for GIGsoup

Now Playing: Pavement – Wowee Zowee (1994)

Wowee Zowee is known for being Pavement‘s most lethargic album, cementing their status as the kings of slacker rock. It’s relaxed, melodic and care-free, without trying to replicate the catchy hits heard on their previous (and highly successful for a supposed cult indie band) album, the excellent Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain; one of my favourite indie albums of all time. I had already heard Wowee Zowee many years ago yet at the time, for whatever reason. I can now appreciate why it’s classed as one of their best records; it’s less immediate then Crooked Rain or Brighten The Corners but it’s a great slow-burner, perfect for lazy summer days. I’ve been listening to Pavement a fair amount recently, they have a lot of replay value and they’re surprisingly diverse. It isn’t hard to see their massive influence on the indie landscape, with pretty much every band that came after them borrowing parts of their sound or adopting Stephen Malkmus’ witty lyricism or slacker pose.

Now Playing: Milk Music – Cruise Your Illusion (2013)

As a huge fan of Dinosaur Jr. and other purveyors of scuzzy, noisy, melodic indie rock, I’m constantly on the look out for bands in a similar vein and Washington’s Milk Music are a perfect example of a band who channel a huge amount of 90’s spirit. Their music is incredibly similar to grunge, indie and post-hardcore bands such as Mudhoney and Hüsker Dü. The slurred vocals are delivered in the same slacker manner we all love about J. Mascis and the fuzzy guitars are played lucidly, often sounding like Neil Young‘s hard rock explorations in albums such as Ragged GloryZuma and Everyone Knows This Is Nowhere. Cruise Your Illusion may come across as derivative for some however, I’m a firm believer that music doesn’t have to be completely original to be enjoyable, Milk Music just make indie with a driven edge, and that’s refreshing to see. Their follow-up, Mystic 100s was released last month and I’m very tempted to give it a listen.

Now Playing: Galaxie 500 – Today (1988)

A super chill album for a nice sunny day, Galaxie 500‘s debut album was hugely influential to the slowcore movement which emerged in the early nineties. Today isn’t depressing or morbid like a huge amount of slowcore is (see Red House Painters as a good example of the downbeat nature of the subgenre), it’s quite mellow, warm and introspective. It’s the perfect length and it’s an enjoyable listen throughout, but the highlights in particular were ‘Parking Lot’ and ‘Tugboat’. This band, like their British counterparts Spacemen 3, were influential to several strains of alternative and indie, including dream pop, noise pop and shoegaze. I quite enjoyed Today so I’ll be sure to visit their classic follow up On Fire sometime in the near future.

Classics Vol. 6: Panda Bear – Person Pitch (2007)

March 20th marks the tenth anniversary of Panda Bear’s Person Pitch, a mesmerizingly playful, radiant and surreal record shaped by eclectic influences, topography and coincidence, amounting to a final creation which remains unsurpassed in contemporary psychedelia. Person Pitch is the result of the hours of work Noah Lennox put into a bedroom studio entwined in wires and strewn with samplers, microphones, laptops and keyboards which formed a unique sound concurrently influenced by the Mediterranean warmth of his newly inhabited Lisbon residence. Customs issues meant no guitar equipment at Noah’s disposal, yet that very occurrence shaped the approach to song-craft which gave Person Pitch its distinctive edge.

The liner notes both prime and enlighten the listener, thanking artists (such as Lee Scratch Perry, Madlib and Spacemen 3 to name a few) that lend to a sound which counteracts anachronistically breezy production with futuristic sample-based song-writing. Part Pet Sounds, part Endtroducing..…, Person Pitch eschews melody with reverb, appends sound snippets plucked from the heart of the wilderness and constructs songs in a collage like manner where each stroke of the sampling palette allows for a clearer final painting. Featuring field recordings of the heady sounds of skateboards rolling over concrete, passing cars, animal commotions (such as hooting owls) and irrational laughter, Person Pitch is an enthralling listening experience.

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Opening with the familiar, nursery rhyme-esque melodies and recurring chants of ‘Comfy In Nautica’, a flair of the exotic is let loose which remains undiminished for the entirety of the album, especially comprehended in the albums two centrepiece tracks. First up is ‘Bros’, the shimmering, hypnotic epic where Panda Bear’s vocals elevate and lead over Cat Stevens lifted repeated guitar motifs, concluded with a firework finale which delivers the celebratory send-off it truly deserves. The latter is ‘Good Girl/Carrots’, a track of two a-symmetrical fragments. It leads headfirst through bizarre passages of tribal tabla polyrhythms played over backmasked vocals, handclaps and horn fanfares, eventually liquefying into uneasy dub reggae rhythms, infrequent bass guitar slides, piano loops and offbeat guitar strokes. The icing on the cake is the sample pocketed from Kraftwerk’s ‘Ananas Symphonie’, where twinkling child’s toy melodies play over Noah’s lush vocals and the irresistible reggae skank.

Elsewhere on ‘Person Pitch’, hymnal choirs resonate over beats which fall like dripping water on ‘I’m Not’, campfire singalongs and hazy-eyed dubs ensue in ‘Take Pills’ and ambient soundscapes contrast the rhythmical mood featured throughout the album on ‘Search for Delicious’ as samples of geese in flight support the album in unwinding. The steady beats of ‘Ponytail’ seem like they’re from a distant island where all night parties are held to the house music of Moodyman, Luomo, Daft Punk, The Orb and Basic Channel; musicians who all feature in Panda’s “thank you” liner notes.

The overwhelming critical response and influence following the release of ‘Person Pitch’ was nothing short of astonishing. Not only did it overshadow Animal Collective’s (Panda’s troupe of neo-psych partisans) ‘Strawberry Jam’ which was released that same year, it also pre-empted the tropical psych-pop of their follow up, Merriweather Post Pavilion. It led a legion of artists to abandon their guitars and cram their bedrooms with samplers and synthesizers, foreshadowing the chillwave movement which gained prominence at the end of the decade. Repeated listens are essential, ‘Person Pitch’ rewards the listener with a new discovery of sound upon each spin; they can pinpoint to specific moments they love within the sampling milieu or work out the origins of a familiar melody or sample. Whilst most modern psychedelic acts look no further than the late 60s for inspiration, Panda Bear took cues from every decade to create a piece of music which took a glimpse into the future and transcends eras.

Panda Bear earned the top spot in my 2015 Albums of the Year list with Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper. 

 

Now Playing: Camp Lo – Uptown Saturday Night (1997)

Wow, this album blew me away. It’s been on my radar for years and years and after being geared up for some hip hop listening this morning thanks to BBC 6 music playing Gang Starr and Pete Rock and CL Smooth, I decided to stick this on. Camp Lo‘s take on hip hop is beat heavy, jazzy and very East Coast sounding. It is comparable to Pete Rock and CL Smooth, De La Soul (who feature on the fourth track ‘B-side to Hollywood’) and Common yet it’s funky and a super chill listen with memorable beats that at the forefront of the sound. The rapping is smooth, loose and is lyrically just as bizarre as Ghostface Killah. It needs a few more listens to sink in, but I have a feeling Uptown Saturday Night will become one of my all time favourite hip hop albums.

Now Playing: Dizzee Rascal – Boy In Da Corner (2003)

Dizzee Rascal‘s debut album is one of the most important British albums of recent memory. Although he didn’t invent grime (that’s usually credited to Wiley who features on ‘2 Far’ before the “beef” with Rascal started), Dizzee brought the genre to mainstream attention and became Britain’s first ever internationally famous rapper. This album literally changed music in the UK forever; it has shaped British music culture at a time when a Britpop hangover led to an identity crisis of landfill indie. The garage rock and post-punk revivals were going incredibly well in America, with bands such as The Strokes and Interpol gaining a huge commercial and critical following yet the UK music scene was looking a bit worse for wear despite the underground garage scene flourishing. Suddenly, grime came along and it felt like the biggest homegrown phenomenon in decades. It gave the music press the huge shake up it required.

The Wire stated that the lead single from the album ‘I Luv U’ is grime’s ‘Anarchy in the UK’ moment, and that’s a pretty accurate comparison. That single is of course, absolutely perfect. I heard The Bug drop it during a live set a few weeks ago and it was the highlight of the night, it still sounds fresh and gets the crowd going to this day. The track features a diss to a female followed by a retort from the woman, chronicling a breakdown in a relationship fueled by jealousy and eventual malicious intentions. The beat is heavy, bassy and catchy as hell. It’s pretty much the pinnacle of grime for me.

‘I Luv U’ may be the lead single, but it is one of the many highlights of Boy In Da Corner. It’s difficult to believe that Dizzee was only 18 years old when this was released; it’s basically his Illmatic. There are the classic tracks ‘Fix Up Look Sharp’ and ‘Brand New Day’ which closely resemble UK hip hop, complete with irresistible hooks and huge beats. ‘Stop Dat’ is more bass heavy grime, ending in a 2 step/bassline breakdown and ‘Jezebel’ features an almost East Asian instrumental with lyrics concerning promiscuity.

Boy In Da Corner may feature a bit of filler, but the bangers more than make up for this. The album was incredibly of its time; there’s a clear influence from genres which were huge in the British electronic music scene such as UK garage and 2 step so in parts, it does sound a tad dated in parts however, the “heavier” tracks still hit hard and will go down well in any DJ set.

The album led to an awakening in British urban music which had never been seen before, and it was an incredibly exciting time. New technology such as compact mobile phones with Bluetooth meant the youth could share the music with ease, people could trade tracks and mixtapes online and countless discussions arose on forums where users were on the prowl for the next big track. For me, personally, this album reminds me of the early days of high school, where “chavs” and bassline were still a thing and life was easy, so listening to Boy In Da Corner and Dizzee Rascal in general took me back a fair bit.

He recently performed the record in full last year in London and FKA Twigs paid homage to the album art in a recent Instagram post. With grime making an incredible resurgence with Skepta‘s Mercury Prize win for Konnichiwa mirroring Dizzee’s win way back in 2003 and some great returns to form from Wiley and JME, everyone who loved Rascal’s early grime work are eager to hear if he’ll release another fully fledged grime album. Grime may owe its dues to Wiley and the UK garage scene, but Boy In Da Corner ushered in the mainstream attention it deserved.

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