SHRINES: ALBUM REVIEW
It takes about a week to even crack the surface of Armand Hammer’s newest album Shrines. The themes that the group address on this project echo through your mind with each listen, different bars standing out every single time. Elucid, half of the group Armand Hammer, is against the printing of lyrics for his projects because he doesn’t want listeners to be able to read along. He wants us to sit and decode, and this album requires just that. Every song on Shrines is a complex web, and the album as a whole feels like a book of poetry being read to you at rapid speeds over industrial and abstract beats. This album is not here to comfort you, but at the same time, it is one of the most beautiful projects I have heard in a long time.
The group Armand Hammer is comprised of the legendary underground rappers Elucid and Billy Woods. As solo artists, they both move mysteriously and continuously put out music that pushes the boundaries of their sound. In addition to their solo work, they have released four full-length albums as a group. Their last album, Paraffin, was filled with a sense of fear and dread: a creeping suspicion of something wrong in the universe. Shrines moves in a slightly different direction. With Shrines, behind all of the distortion and dystopia is a feeling of calm.
The concept of time is a major theme on this record and the subtle ways in which Billy Woods and Elucid talk the manipulation of time is breathtaking. On the song “Flavor Flav,” Flavor Flav’s signature clock becomes representative of the never-ending nature of time. As Elucid says, “Flavor Flav clock spins centrifugal. Rhythm in intervals, possibilities invisible but endless.” In the song both artists jump back and forward in time, each taking their own unique stance on its permeance. Elucid chooses to go back in time while Billy Woods can only advance. He says, “I got a time machine and it don't go backwards.” His time machine races through time to the eventual conclusion to all of the madness occurring in the world. As he says, “all roads lead to Rome. Shook the hourglass like a snow globe.” The jumbled advancement of time seeps through this entire project, as both artists move through discussions of revolts, uprisings, and strife.
Woods also has a habit of taking popular phrases and flipping them to provide them with an entirely new meaning. On Frida, he says “Saved by a good guy with a gun just stolen,” and later flips the Nas line, “That buck that bought the bottle coulda struck the lotto” to “That buck that lost the lotto coulda bought a fucking bottle.” Billy Woods expertly takes phrases that are part of the pop-culture lexicon and reveals their darker undertones. By changing the Nas line, Billy Woods suggests that there is no hope anywhere in sight. The person with that buck has the choice of losing the lotto or buying a bottle. There is no winning, the outcome is essentially the same.
Most of all, this album feels like a letter from the ether. Both Billy Woods and Elucid seem as if they are speaking out like prophets to preach what they have seen from another world. Their observations come from a space of nothingness and it feels like they act only as observers of history and time. This gives their words a power that I have felt with few other releases in my life and that will stick with me for a long time.
On the first listen, I can’t say that I enjoyed Shrines because there was so much that I didn’t understand. So, if you check out this album, stick with it for a few days. It’s hard to passively listen to anything Billy Woods or Elucid release. A full listen through ofShrines means a lot of googling, reading, and an intense focus. But once you get used to Armand Hammer’s style, Shrines has incredibly profound power and beauty unmatched by any other album released this year.