When a band emerges with a name that makes reference to an “anti-colonial struggle”, it’s apparent they’ve something to say. Listen to any group with politically aware, highly intellectual and philosophical beliefs for too long, however, and you begin to wonder why you listened to them in the first place; it’s all about the music, right? Not in the case of Atlanta’s Algiers it isn’t.
The most anarchic form of music to ever represent deep-rooted feelings and angst is unequivocally punk, but when you marry that with an unlikely companion such as gospel then a whole new world of opportunity opens itself, and that’s what Algiers appear to have done for their extraordinarily powerful, self-titled debut. It’s still punk, conceived from feelings of frustration and helplessness of one voice against society, but it’s not punk as you know it.
From file-swapping to crafting a fully fledged album, the trio have travelled a long way but they took a considerable length of time getting there, having formed almost a decade ago. Their first single – Blood – appeared in 2012 and was self-described as being “a distillation of a feeling of frustration, and a reassertion of world solidarity in the face of economic globalisation”. It’s a far cry, then, from the laughably overbearing lovelorn teenage romance tales of woe that way too many pretty-faced acts are currently polluting the airwaves with. This in turn, though, makes it an often difficult and challenging listen.
They like handclapped beats, do Algiers, and that’s how the slow and brooding Blood begins, almost representative of slavery and the sound of weary, bloody slaves dragging their chains across the earth. “My blood’s in vain,” claims singer Franklin James Fisher, before declaring in phenomenally powerful style the tormented cry of “four hundred years of torture, four hundred years a slave”. The trio are quick to revive the oft-forgotten fact that this is a recent historical subject and not something that’s so long gone that it should be easily brushed aside by modern society, its echoes still visibly resonating if one dares to look closely.
Ominous sounding album opener Remains utilises more handclapping, as does Black Eunuch. The former arrives courtesy of a doom-laden, persistent synth chord to a backdrop of gospel-tinted chants and is a brilliant effort, if a little concise, that hints at the chaos to follow. The latter mixes rapid handclapping beats with bursts of electric guitar, tambourine and twanging bass, sounding a little like Bloc Party attempting to produce Captain Beefheart lunacy in front of an over-demanding Lucifer. Yet more handclapping adorns another track that conjures up imagery from slavery, In Parallax, and so it’s little wonder that Bloc Party’s Matt Tong is called upon for live appearances in order to supplement both the clapping and electronic beats.
The dance beat of Irony Utility Pretext is an infectious cut that is unique to the collection, and possibly bears one of the most curious titles you’re likely to witness this year whilst Old Girl opens to vocal samples that sound something like a Moby record before turning into something far different, its sinister warning of “he’s gonna find you when you’re sleeping, he’s gonna make you wish for dawn” set to haunt you for days.
As well as the band’s inner beliefs, the chaos of the music can also occasionally overwhelm, like on Claudette, where vocal melodies sound completely out of place with various instrumentation melding together like strawberries and gravy; it’s almost as if a number of different tracks originally set for different destinations have been stuck together in one big sonic mash.
You’re unlikely to hear anything as powerful and focussed in 2015 as Algiers’ debut, but it’s not for the faint-hearted. Rhythms, lyrical content and, well, general noise will test listeners’ resolve but then aren’t the most influential, game-changing albums from bygone eras all formed from similar moulds? It’s unlikely that this album will achieve legendary status but there are more than enough signs here to suggest something massive might be around the corner.