Armand Hammer

Armand Hammer | We Buy Diabetic Test Strips |
Armand Hammer | We Buy Diabetic Test Strips |

This post was written by our great friend Jeremy.

I challenge any musical outfit in the world to create a more thought-provoking and challenging piece of music than Armand Hammer’s We Buy Diabetic Test Strips, because I haven’t heard one this year. Just as their past three albums have, this release makes me feel like I’ll need to listen to it a thousand times in order to adequately peel back the meaning behind the lyrical layers that woods and ELUCID have laid. That’s the kind of challenge that puts them among my favorite musical artists of the present moment, ever brooding and exuding political acumen. In my opinion, their uniquely bold style and flows make them the most interesting rappers around.

In this release, they continue to demonstrate a deep understanding of the bleak and corrupt environment created by the powers that be, though they do it with personal anecdotes and poignant lyrical tact. Much of their language is subtle enough that we’ll need to rely on the Genius community to help us decode it little by little (despite woods’ line in this album that says “SMH Rap Genius improbable readings”), including the many apt historical and pop culture references. They’re anticolonial and anti-establishment in the most informed way. The title itself provides a clear critique of the greed involved in the American healthcare system. 

With an all-star producer cast, the album presents an even more complex and mind-blowing soundscape of beats than their previous releases (which is saying a lot). Despite already having successfully “Scar[ed] the Hoes” this year, JPEGMAFIA appears as producer on tracks throughout the album in all his glitched-out majesty. Aside from Peggy, El-P and DJ Haram bring the biggest and most memorable beats. In addition, heralded woods collaborators Messiah Musik, Preservation, Kenny Segal, Jeff Markey, and Moor Mother also contributed their production skills, bringing the distorted, off-kilter, and abruptly changing sound that keeps me coming back to Armand Hammer albums again and again.

The album opens with a sound collage of lo-fi and sometimes backmasked spoken-word clips and dreamy echoes. These types of sounds resurface throughout the track list, complementing the unrelenting and dour raps. They blur seemingly mundane details and observations into deeper concepts with obscure references. Fans will recognize certain refrains from their previous work (i.e., “You don’t work, you don’t eat”). Whether they’re callbacks to past tracks, or simply their own mantras, you could never mistake woods and ELUCID for anyone else. You can feel that there’s deeper meaning in their haunting verses, but you don’t need to be able to interpret every word to appreciate their inherent poetic value and relevance. 

Some of my favorite tracks are as follows, though there isn’t a dull track on the album:

  • “Woke Up and Asked Siri How I’m Gonna Die” is JPEGMAFIA at his best. woods paints a surrealistic picture of life that matches the vibe of the backing track: “Life’s a trip, if you live long enough you gon’ see it all / Life’s a blip, I flew in under the radar / Beat up spaceships, sliding under the light of a dead star / Still made my shift, appropriately lit for the graveyard.”
  • The aptly named Trauma Mic brings the sickest and most austere rumble from DJ Haram, complemented so well by ELUCID’s confrontational verse.
  • The Gods Must Be Crazy just has the best beat with the best groove (from El-P), and every verse flows so well with it. ELUCID references the novel 1984 with the line, “Why I still gotta dress for a thought crime?”. woods, who I can’t quote enough, raps, “White women with pepper spray in they purse interpolating Beyonce”.
  • Y’all Can’t Stand Right Here is a biased favorite due to the MF DOOM sample. woods includes one of his best verses: “Passed my own crime bill / It said if you scared, go to church, you could still get killed / Life’s hell / Natural life, If your lies put somebody in the cell / Ten years for trading stocks, enhancements for brokering deals / CFOs pleading out junior traders flipping / Flip you for real.”
  • On Empire BLVD, Junglepussy and Curly Castro’s features complement the sinister bassline and dark tone of a track that ends up being a banger. woods’ verse blows my mind on this one, and ELUCID absolutely destroys it as well, spitting fire at the end of the track and including the line “If you can’t be used, you’re useless.”

We Buy Diabetic Test Strips is out now via Fat Possum. You can get it from their Bandcamp page or from us here.

Bill Callahan

I’ve been captivated by Bill Callahan ever since I discovered him at my favorite record store. Callahan has been recording music for sometime now, since 1992 as Smog, a moniker he shed with his first self-titled album in 2007. His new album, Apocalypse, is his fifteenth. His voice is dark and smooth like a tub of margarine with bits of toast residue in it. It reminds me a bit of Chris Goss from Masters of Reality. Some musical parts in his newest album remind me of a few Mike Watt songs.

With only seven songs, the album appears to be short, but there are 40 minutes of tremendous song structures mixed with one of more original voices I have heard in a long time. This track, “Baby’s Breath”, starts out slowly, builds to a nice pace, then settles down into its original tempo. It repeats this pattern throughout. The emotional crux of the song hits as he exclaims, “Oh I’m a helpless man, so help me”, while his guitar cries out in pain. As of right now Apocalypse is the best album I have heard this year. I highly recommended it.

– By Todd S

Baby’s Breath [MP3, 10.1MB, 255kbps]


After a few days of obsessing over categorizing Netherfriends’ sound, I realized such efforts were unnecessary and that the six tracks on this EP were strong enough to stand alone. As vain as my attempts at classification may have been, I still have to try. Here goes: the majority of the Netherfriends EP is an exploration of pop possibilities. It’s an addictive mix of Animal Collective’s meandering instrumentation and the Elephant Six Collective’s tendencies to pay homage to ‘60s era pop. “Mom Cop” leans towards the latter. However you decide to categorize them, listener beware: I ended up memorizing the lyrics to all six songs in a day. Netherfriends exposed the addictive side of my personality.

– By Brie Roche-Lilliott

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With muffled vocals in minor keys, purposeful feedback, and dominating drums Valleys eerie folk sound resembles a bizarre nightmare.

The duo’s album, Sometimes Water Kills People, can almost be considered as one extensive song, rather than nine separate tracks, thanks to its consistently moderate tempo and transitions that melt the endings into the beginnings of subsequent songs. Lyrics and vocals take a back seat to their mystifying guitar preludes, or thundering drum patterns. The six minutes of “CR68C” is composed solely of stifled screeching guitar riffs with simultaneous plucking, and brief interludes of drumming.

If it’s intricate music patterns or inspirational lyrics you’re after, you’re headed in the wrong direction. I admit it was difficult to digest Valleys’ synthesized additives and unorthodox style. But by track two, “Santiago,” I was hooked to their repetitive lyrics and mellow mood. Tie for first goes to “Le Sujet Est Delicat” and “Tan Lines”; the addicting oriental instrumentals coming in halfway through the former and the simple yet poetic lyrics of the latter skyrocketed their play count.

-By Brie Roche-Lilliott

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Upon entering the nondescript disc into my player and pressing play, unexpected sounds of the early ’60s folk revival greeted me. Upcoming solo musicians and bands alike attempt this sound often, aiming for the blues-rock appeal of Dylan and the Byrds. Despite many failures at this seemingly futile endeavor, Secondstar’s EP Teeth effortlessly masters it.

Liam Carey, the only permanent member of Secondstar, duplicates that mellow folksy-blues sound with the help of guest vocalists, lead banjo, and simple melodies. He says Teeth “is kind of a bridge from an older time of more tragic songs, to today, with more pop-influenced songs.” Although only five tracks long, Teeth boasts a mature, eerie quality, transcending many of his contemporaries. The EP opens with “Ravens” and its instantly infectious a capella harmonizing and hand-clapping intro. “Kites and Arrows” blends melodic whistling with melancholic lyrics in a minor key. However, “Pieces” maintains a slightly more upbeat tempo and employs additional banjo, lending it a dreamy, southern tone. Sink your teeth into “Ravens” and if you want more, a download of the entire EP is available here.

by Brie Roche-Lilliott

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Luke Top

I am having a hard time filling in the genre field on iTunes for this Luke Top guy. In a word—curious. He plays the field a bit with bands, touring and recording with Cass Mccombs, Papercuts, and Foreign Born. I’m not going attempt a review of the Afro-Hebrew dance band Fool’s Gold he co-founded. Discover that on your own. The important part of the story? He’s quirky good. The cute-and-personable-brainiac-kid-in-math-class quirky good. Clearly being born in Tel Aviv to an Iraqi refugee and a Russian-born aviator transplanted to Southern California is a successful formula to inspire writing a light sigh of music.

by Emily M.

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Brian Olive

Since I missed the ’70s and blindly followed the “Proud to be Drug Free” crowd in the ’80s, Brian Olive is filling in the blanks for me. If I fell asleep to this record I’m sure I’d dream myself into New Orleans sometime in the ’70s, chemical high and all. The music is as colorful as the album cover, and sounds like a stack of beatnik, jazz, and psychedelic records melted into one soundtrack to a ’70s brown-hued television show. I think I’m gonna need a brownie.

(by our friend Emily M.)

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William Fitzsimmons

I haven’t decided if William Fitzsimmons is a bastard with an irritating beard, or the undiscovered perfect boyfriend I missed sitting in the back of my most boring college class. Perhaps he’s both, and maybe I dated his evil angelic twin. Joseph, the boy who knew he’d never fight with his true love; the artist who was so sure he’d leave his young family in the dark of night.

Fitzsimmons’ most recent album, “The Sparrow and the Crow” is about divorce. His divorce, but I’m certain any divorcee could glean some ah-ha from listening. Call it music to listen to once you’ve accepted what has happened, comfortable with it or not. With a Master’s Degree in mental health you have to hope he’s got solid ideas about the delicacy of marriage. The joy that aches.

If You Would Come Back Home is officially on repeat in my head, rarely interrupted for a week. It’s a nice sunshine melancholy soundtrack to the spectacularly mundane everyday stuff. He understands what took me so long to see, good writing is not about the fanciest words, it’s about the perfect arrangement of the most simple words.

(by our friend Emily M.)

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Not Waving But Drowning

A few years ago I went to a political fundraiser where it was decided everyone would more likely hand over their pennies if all the begging was disguised as a hoe down. BBQ beef on rolls as big as your head, piles of potato salad and hay. Bales and bales of hay. Cowboy boots on hundreds of people with too much money who’d never even seen a cow in real life.

Not Waving But Dancing is not this type of hoe down. It is decidedly more hopeless. Like a drunken fest in a Romanian Gypsy camp. At this hoe down Peter the Great would show you his baby skeletons in his cabinet of curiosities; you’d see less teeth, more fishnet, more velvet. With or without alcohol you’d feel yourself moving slower.

(by our friend Emily M.)

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James Pants

Good evening. I’m going to try very very hard not to make any “Pants” jokes here. O.k. — Let’s do this. He impressed Mr. Peanut Butter Wolf and now he’s impressing us with his neon-bathed, wheel-pitched funk. A sneak peak at the new album from James Pants, “Ka$h” draws a lot of comparison to Prince, Pharrell and the ’80s. More specifically, I would say it dates back when nerds *weren’t* cool, and Mr. Nelson was knocking the genres of the day on their sorry asses. There’s a DRM version out there now, but I’m holding out more. You could say I can’t wait for the rest of these Pants to drop. Ah, crap. I’m soooo sorry.

Dan Sicko (special guest to

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