Shrines // Armand Hammer

Reviewed: 20/06/2020

Rating: 0.7.5 // 10

Genres: Hip-Hop, East Coast Hip-Hop

Released: 05/06/20, Backwoodz Studios

Armand Hammer come through with another solid project, refining the sound they are known for without really pushing the boundaries in terms of innovation.

14 tracks and 43 minutes flies by through this project, an engrossing album that knows where it is going and doesn’t rush towards it.

Despite how quickly the opening leg of the album passes by, there are a few memorable moments in the first five tracks. Be it the repetitive strings of the opening track Bitter Cassava, the dark and brooding sound of the guitars on Leopards, or the almost harrowing wind instrument-like synths on Pommelhorse, the variety and constant switch-up of instruments used builds a sonic blanket that envelops the artist.

The strength of the beats are bolstered by superb, colourful, introspective lyrics throughout.

They lean towards almost being non-sensical at times, but at its best it creates clear and vivid imagery, for example billy woods’ first verse on Charms:

“Tumble out the ether, my blank verse
Wild jungle out the speaker, rare earths
Every rebbe wonder, will his golem work?
Every golem wonder if they was the first

To list all the examples of clever wordplay and world building via lyrics would be to quote the majority of the album; even when the pair go off on separate tangents, the picture they paint is strong in the listener’s mind.

I won’t go into the story of the tiger from the album artwork; an interview sample in the outro of Pommelhorse does that easily. Basically, someone thought it would be a great idea to keep a Tiger in an apartment.

As the interviews fades away to make way for the next track, we get a build up of jittering drums that become the background of the mean and menacing track Leopards.

This album broaches topics including slavery, such as on King Tubby, religion, both Christianity and the customs of Ancient Egyptians, and the fleeting careers of African-American NFL players. The themes are wide, and whilst the album is rooted in a similar, dingy vibe throughout, it isn’t exactly the most cohesive of projects.

The frequent habits of ending tracks on unconnected interview excerpts such as Pommelhorse, Slewfoot and Charms, which whilst interesting, really don’t help the general feeling of a lack of cohesion between songs.

Sometimes the pair’s lyrics diverge totally, and it feels like they aren’t even discussing the same topics directly. That being said, sometimes the hyperbole, metaphor and similes are cut through by meticulously crafted story telling, such as on War Stories.

Perhaps the fact that billy woods has both a verse and a hook, but even Elucid’s lyricism is at its strong on the track.

“Out here chatting like my MAC gently weeps ” a reference to two tracks off of the Beatles’ White album is such a smart combination, and whilst his lyrics are more abstract than his partner, it works to produce the best track of the album. I like the cowbells sparsed throughout, as well.

Features are frequent on the project, with Pink Siifu‘s nasally chorus on the opener, the stuttered flow of Quelle Chris on Frida, guest artists are used as tools and samples almost – fairly detached from the artists as a whole.

This is a beautiful sounding albums – but there doesn’t appear to be much under the surface-level appreciation of the crafting of tracks. The production is near flawless, with little to critique.

Most tracks show little progression beyond the opening 30 seconds, although Frida is a notable exception with its distortion of the sample and flow change-up.

As a whole, it is very good. However, for me, it lacks the cohesiveness or overarching theme to tie everything succinctly together. That’s not to say I don’t enjoy the lyricism or the beats, it just comes across very one-note at times.

Track Listing

  • Bitter Cassava – B+
  • Solarium – B
  • Charms – B+
  • Pommelhorse – B+
  • Leopards – A-
  • King Tubby – B+
  • Frida – A
  • Slewfoot – B+
  • War Stories – A
  • Flavor Flav – B+
  • Dead Cars – B+
  • Parables – B+
  • Ramesses II – B+
  • The Eucharist – B+

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