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.

Sam’s Top 23 Songs of 2016

(Sequenced for flow – not ranking – purposes.)

Tyvek “Choose Once” (In the Red)
My single of the year, from my album of the year. So raw, so good.

Mass Gothic “Every Night You’ve Got to Save Me” (Sub Pop)
Family Sing-Along Song of the Year honors go to this raucous doo-wop jam.

DIIV “Under the Sun” (Captured Tracks)
Shining down from a shimmering crack in the clouds that hung over 2016.

A Tribe Called Quest “We the People…” (Epic)
I could have chosen any of a half dozen tracks off this album but this here’s the anthem, get your damn hands up.

Francis and the Lights w/ Bon Iver “Friends” (KTTF)
Alan Parsons meets auto-tuned R&B meets, well, Bon Iver.

Half this song is impossible to dance to; the other half is impossible not to dance to.

De La Soul “Royalty Capes” (AOI)
I wish this album had been more fulfilling than my anticipation of it, but there are some real gems amidst the scattershot experiments. This one’s about why a guy can’t find vintage De La on any of the streaming services.

Homeboy Sandman “Heart Sings” (Stones Throw)
Homeboy Sandman w/ I Am Many “Real New York”
(Stones Throw)
Sometimes he rhymes slow, sometimes he rhymes quick.

Beach Slang “Spin the Dial” (Polyvinyl)
“I was born at the bottom
But I never belonged
I’m hardly ever right
But I’ve never been wrong”
Could’ve been ripped straight from Paul Westerberg’s notebook.

The Men “Dreamer” (We Are the Men)
What you’d imagine to be playing anytime a parent pounds on their teen’s bedroom door and yells, “Turn it down!”

The Radio Dept. “Committed to the Cause” (Labrador)
A slinky statement of a song with hints of Prefab Sprout and St. Etienne.

Parquet Courts “Steady on My Mind” (Rough Trade)
Mmmn, Velvet-y.

Grandaddy “A Lost Machine” (Sony)
Man, this album can’t come soon enough…

James Blake “Love Me in Whatever Way” (Polydor)
That laugh track makes this even more heartbreaking than your average James Blake song.

ot to, not to w/ Noah Smith “Regretta I” (Other People)
Listen very closely.

The xx “On Hold” (Young Turks)
I know their 15 minutes of fame should be long gone, but that Hall & Oates sample…

Sonny & the Sunsets “Needs” (Polyvinyl)
The album where Sonny fell in love with a drum machine and made some goofy babies like this one.

Sunflower Bean “I Was Home” (Fat Possum)
Critics fawned over their debut but I found most of the album kinda boring. That said, this single is some transcendent psych rock amazingness.

Terry Malts “Used to Be” (Slumberland)
Terry Malts has been to me in the early 20-teens what The Wedding Present was to me in the early 1990s – completely durable and indispensible.

The Intended “Don’t Wait Too Long” (In the Red)
Rollicking goodness from Detroit’s garage (or basement, as the case may be) scene.

Leonard Cohen “It Seemed the Better Way” (Sony)
I’m a man of faith but after a year like this one, I get it. I really do.

David Bowie “Lazarus” (ISO/Columbia)
As my grandmother was bedridden and dying of cancer she’d ask my mom to open the curtains so she could watch the birds in the tree outside her window. When I first heard the bluebird line, I crumbled into a sobbing mess. Bowie gave until the very end…ain’t that just like him?


Young Nathan Williams aka Wavves has been making a lot of…wait for it…no, I’m not going to do that to you…Williams has been making lots of friends (or enemies perhaps) over the weekend as out in Austin, Texas for SXSW as he just wrapped up ELEVEN appearances. He now makes his way out East and then back home to San Diego. Williams’ not-so-stealth appearance into the indie scene largely depends on his DIY ethic, both in production and publicity. He’s a one man bedroom band equipped with a multi-track recorder and enough instruments, harmonies and fuzz to fill said bedroom. I mentioned fuzz right? He’s full of it, but for those of you not trained to do so, be patient and listen deeper into the songs, past the noise, and you’ll be rewarded with this kid’s hooks! He’s full of them too. Plans are in the works to put out a proper studio album, but you’ll want to be able to tell your kids you were listening to Wavves “before he sold out.” It’ll be analogous to the “I was listening to Beck when he was on Bongload” conversations happening 17 years ago. Fat Possum just put out his album, Wavves, last week, but it was live on iTunes months before that. And previously Williams released a slew of cassettes and 7-inch singles on a handful of different labels. Wavves is stirring up a big tsunami in a little pond, jump on board and ride it in before the line-up gets overcrowded.

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Colour Revolt

Colour Revolt are from Oxford, and though you might think from the way they’ve decided to spell that we’re talking about the Anglo-universal seat of education in Jolly Old, we’re actually talking about the other Old Oxford, as in “Ole” Oxford, as in Ole Miss. At first pass you might not hear the Deep South in the very fuzzy guitarry sound, which actually reminds me more of Girls Against Boys and Helmet than anything to come out of the southland of late. But listen to the lyrics and you’ll get a good dose of God. And, as we all know, there ain’t no God party like a Southern God party ‘coz a Southern God party got eternal damnation. Heyyyy. Hoooo.

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Dinosaur Jr.

After a couple years of playing live shows together, the original Dinosaur Jr. — J, Lou, Murph — went into the studio and freakin’ took it back to the old school. Beyond is everything I loved about the original Dino Jr. It’s a noisy collection of reluctantly romantic rock and roll, both hopeless and hopeful, air guitar worthy and turn-out-the-lights-and-sulk worthy. Plus, look at the cover, a throwback to their Homestead/SST releases. It’s just like heaven.

Original post (from 12/10/2005):
As may have already been documented at some point on 3hive, Sean, Clay, and I met as college students. But ours was a college town with no college radio (unless you count 24/7 classical music and church sermons as college radio). So Sean decided one day to start a college radio station, with a more typical college radio format, and enlisted his friends — me and Clay among them — in the cause. To this day, there are songs I can’t hear without being taken back to that tiny booth with the temperamental cart machine and wobbly microphone. While my love for Dinosaur Jr. certainly pre- and post-dates those days, I can’t hear “Freak Scene” without feeling the impulse to punch out the two F words and back sell it with, “That was Dinosaur Jr. on AM960, The Student Underground Network…” Old habits die hard.

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Andrew Bird

Andrew Bird is back, with a new album — Armchair Apocrypha — to be released in a month or so, a prominent SXSW appearance, late-night TV gigs and a big tour (dates & locales here). Also back: musically complex, gently orchestrated and textured pop songs with obscure or unexpected lyric paths, and more whistling than a Roger Whittaker album. Some of the off-beat syncopation and general quirkiness aren’t here; in general Armchair Apocrypha sounds developed and mature. That said, Bird’s sound is still fresh and inviting, clever and complex.

Heretics [MP3, 3.2MB, 128kbps]

Original post: 05/05/05
A message from Sean to me, regarding Andrew Bird:
“Damn, you beat me to this! AB’s one of those artists that I just never took the time to listen to, even though I had access to his records….then when I do finally listen, I’m kicking myself for waiting so long…”
Incredibly fresh songwriting, with an abundance of clever lines and complex instrumentation that fits somewhere between Nick Drake and Arcade Fire. Thanks to Gordon for this suggestion.

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The Black Keys

The two-man jam might make you think of the White Stripes and the name doesn’t do anything to discourage the comparison. So you might as well just go with the roadhouse flow and enjoy some new and old from the duo with the reverb to shake your favorite parts and the quiet side to make you wanna kiss somebody sloppy.

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