Algiers’ Enigmatic New Album Looks at Current Day Perils Through a Glass, Darkly

by delarue

Algiers are one of the world’s most individualistic, relevant bands. Their 2014 debut album was a grim, confrontational mashup of oldschool soul, new wave and postrock, with a fiery populist, anti-racist sensibility. Their latest release, The Underside of Power – streaming at Spotify – is more Sandinista than London Calling . It’s a jaggedly interconnected suite that owes as much to the 80s film scores of Brad Fiedel and RZA’s lavish 90s Wu-Tang Clan sample collages than it does to rock or soul music. Informed by the Black Lives Matter movement, hip-hop, oldschool gospel and Albert Camus, it demands repeated listenings. Like Joe Strummer, frontman Franklin James Fisher is a fiery vocalist but often obscured in the mix to the point where the repeat button is required. But it’s worth the effort. 

Fisher’s fervent gospel-influenced vocals rise over a trip-hop beat and Lee Tesche’s war videogame synth on the opaquely defiant opening track, Walk Like a Panther: Rev. Sekou meets Portishead. With its watery Siouxsie guitar, loopy backdrop and dark cinematic cloudbanks, Cry of the Martyrs gives Fisher a launching pad for fire-and-brimstone imagery with current-day resonance. The equally catchy title track, a hit in camo disguise, is dark Four Tops Motown through  prism of postrock: “t’s just a question of time before we fall fall down,” is the mantra.

Death Match blends Unknown Pleasures Joy Division with Depeche Mode darkwave, building an allusively apocalyptic scenario. With its toxic post-battle ambienceA Murmur a Sigh  echoes that gloom.

Ryan Mahan’s austerelly waltzing piano in Mme. Rieux – a reference to a minor character in Camus’ novel The Plague – adds Botanica plaintiveness to its towering Pink Floyd grandeur. A mashup of dark gospel and trip-hop, Cleveland is a fierce yet enigmatic anti-police violence anthem :

In Jackson Mississippi they don’t have to hide…
We’re coming back…
The hand that finds you behind and ties the the thirteen loops…

The question is who’s making the comeback here, the Klan, or the people? The answer is far from clear.

With its brisk motorik rhythm,  Animals is Wire crossed with the Bomb Squad  The band follows that with the slow, ominously atmospheric  instrumental Plague Years and then the broodingly crescendoing A Hymn For an Average Man, its horror movie piano loops setting the stage for mighty Floyd guitar crunch.

The echoey soundscape Bury Me Standing segues into the final cut, The Cycle the Spiral Time to Go Down Slowly, a pulsing noir soul song awash in sweeping war movie sonics. Spend some time with this album in the dark and then figure out where we’re going to go from here.