Armand Hammer are an experimental hip-hop duo made up of E L U C I D (rapper/producer) and Billy Woods (rapper). Despite taking a year off from releases in 2019 as a duo, Billy Woods was working harder than ever, delivering not one but two conceptually and lyrically tight records. Concerns would be well founded therefore, as to the ability and stamina of the pair to come through with a record as polished as 2018’s Paraffin. Shrines however delivers a unique – if unnerving – experience.
Built on saturated, off-kilter drum loops, grainy samples and a seemingly unending barrage of cultural references, the duo conjure apocalyptic worlds on each of Shrine’s 14 tracks. E L U C I D and Billy seem to hold musical convention and listenability in contempt, or at least take pleasure in perverting them throughout the LP. On ‘Charms’ metallic percussion drops in and out of the mix over an overblown flute sample while the pair deliver their intricate rhyme schemes which blur street smarts and spirituality “Stark phenomenon, faith starts when shit stops addin’ up/ Charge it to the game, plus tax just when you had enough” raps E L U C I D, later referencing early Christian mysticism and a strange theory that Eve (Of Genesis) had a sister. The pair’s fascination with Judeo-Christian mysticism permeates the record, with references to obscure philosophies on wealth, time and rap culture popping up on tracks like ‘Flava Flav’ and ‘Eucharist’ where the line “Christianity is cultural appropriation” alone is mind blowing, and gives the album as a whole more substance for listeners who enjoy through analyses and obscure theologies.
Elsewhere a range of guest features including Earl Sweatshirt, R.A.P Ferreira (formerly Milo), Akai Solo and more do well to break up the pairs focused but cryptic and dark themes, steering their tracks onto (relatively) more conventional themes. R.A.P. Ferreira’s feature on ‘Dead Cars’ is a particular highlight, where a more traditional instrumental ornamented by childish synth chords provides a pensive backdrop for meditations a decaying culture, which seems less distant with each passing day.
Shrines is an alienating listen, but this is precisely what experimental hip-hop fans will love it for, with poetic lyrics and abstract instrumentals, it comes on like a collage from some meta-cultural junkyard, a challenge, but a rewarding one.