Algiers - The Underside of Power

by Jon Burke Rating:9 Release Date:2017-06-23

A special kind of magic exists in liminal spaces. Identity, politics, religion and even time lose their relevance to varying degrees within these unstuck places. The city of Algiers is one such liminal space; it’s been the focus of so much desire, dispute and disruption, over centuries, that residents have one language for math and science (French) and another language for literature and philosophy (Arabic). In much the same way, the band Algiers exists in a kind musical liminality; they make loud, politically charged, post-punk music underpinned by a deep understanding of both gospel and soul. Though that description might lead some to conclude Algiers sound must be musically schizophrenic, in fact, the disparate influences feed-into, and play off-of, one another to create something unique and deeply satisfying on their latest effort, The Underside of Power.

The Underside of Power is Algiers second album. Their first, eponymous, record was met with critical acclaim at the blending of Marxist revolutionary politics with a punk rock gospel sound… it was also met with semi-problematic sonic comparisons to TV On The Radio. With The Underside of Power Algiers has distanced themselves from those comparisons and produced a wonderfully complex, energetic and politically charged record, packed with enough cynicism and outrage to topple a government. It’s not that The Underside of Power is an unpleasant listening experience, it’s more that in these unpleasant times art can either distract or reflect and The Underside of Power reflects with the intensity of an industrial laser. Even tapping one’s toe along to a driving Algiers beat is a tacit acknowledgement of the rot inherent in neoliberal economics and the need to combat said rot or stand complicit.

The album’s opening track, “Walk Like A Panther” is an explosive rant against the powers that be, having far more in common with Run the Jewels than critics’ frequent Algiers referent, Nick Cave. The song is pure stress, with its trap beat and fuzzed-out, barely-sung, vocal ranting from frontman, Franklin James Fisher. It sets the tone for an album which, one moment, feels like a forced deep-water baptism (“Cry of the Martyrs”) and the next feels like groovy Motown revival (“The Underside of Power”). There is something deeply and uniquely satisfying about a record containing the lyrics “crypto-fascist contagion” set against a wall of sound that would make Phil Spector envious. Again, the power of Algiers is in their disparate influences and modes of expression which, when blended or juxtaposed, creates something greater than the sum of its parts.

Though Fisher is often reluctant in interviews to acknowledge his vocal talent, The Underside of Power showcases not only his vocal range, and charisma, but also highlights the wolf-like rasp he shares with so many of his musical progenitors (Sam Cooke, Otis Redding, Joe Strummer…). The tortured spiral of “Cleveland” displays the sheer magnificence of Algiers as the track opens with a soaring gospel chorus loop and then builds to Fisher wailing over a cacophony of thundering 808 drums, humming keyboards and distorted guitars. For someone so hesitant to call himself a singer, Franklin James Fisher more than holds his own against the other talents in Algiers.

Right now music seems to be holding its collective breath, waiting for the next big thing to emerge. The recent musical revolutions hip hop, grunge and indie pop have given way to a collection of disparate, incohesive artists and sounds. Listeners looking for something fresh and innovative will find what they’re looking for in Algiers. The band’s liminal existence having fostered exactly the right combination of sonic influences, aggressive politics and creative freedom to forge an album unlike anything else you’ll hear in 2017. Today there is no more pleasurable way to tell Trump, May and Putin to ‘fuck-off’ than picking up a copy of The Underside of Power and pressing play.

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