After touring both stadiums supporting Depeche Mode and tiny eastern European headline shows directly afterwards, all in support of their excellent second album The Underside Of Power, Atlanta/London/NYC conglomeration Algiers might have been forgiven for taking a break. Instead they returned in 2019 with the explosive standalone slab of focused fury that is Can The Sub Bass Speak?
A righteous affair of free jazz, samples and a stream-of-consciousness vocal track from front man Franklin James Fisher, it addressed a bewildering assortment of identity and race related questions he’s faced and statements he’s heard, among them: “How does it feel to be a black man making white music?”; “You look like Laurence Fishburne, you look like Lenny Kravitz…”; “I got black friends too.” Serving as a purposeful purge of anger as much as a signpost that Algiers mean business, the track’s release might ostensibly have allowed the band to move forward.
Yet if Can The Sub Bass Speak? was intended to draw a line under the four-piece’s noted and deeply felt political nous, their cranked-up whirlwind third album There Is No Year quickly dispels any such notions. It also broadens further their already considerable musical palette which here incorporates ferocious punk, psychedelic-industrial rhythms and gospel-tinged firebrand soul. Described by guitarist Lee Tesche as possessing a sound beamed in from “a different era”, There Is No Year reflects a frequently terrifying world back at itself, spotlighting the horrors hidden in plain sight. It does so by means of Fisher’s impressionistic lyrical incantations, based on an epic poem he calls Misophonia, composed during a search for meaning amidst a protracted personal period of anxiety. The singer-poet’s lines then are never jocular; but if there’s an occasional swing to over-earnestness, and if the sum of the parts is intense, the modern story of the world around us seems at least a fitting base for such outcomes.
Fisher’s force-of-nature vocals soar purposefully throughout over impressive sonic variety. While in places industrially adjacent to the sound of Depeche Mode (especially on Hour Of The Furnaces and, to a lesser extent, on Unoccupied), on Dispossession – the video for which ties together colonial massacres of Algerians with footage of Paris’s banlieues and the Jardin d’Agronomie Tropicale, a park that celebrates the glories of empire – Fisher’s clarion call voice melds with minor chord piano, squalling guitar and gospel backing to create a heady revolutionary brew.
In contrast, Losing Is Ours’ cathartic change of pace marks it as a standout, unexpectedly arresting for dialling down, and with a deliberative sparseness to the arrangement that recalls Massive Attack’s Angel. The album is all the better for this varied texture, with Wait For The Sound demonstrating that lightning can strike twice. In the funky Chaka they sound like they’ve danced off into the cosmos, while the frenetic punky bonus track Void – “Got to find a way to get out of it” – suggests blasting off to outer space in a rocket made of music might indeed be a near-future consideration. We Can’t Be Found’s narrative, matched by the creeping dread of the scattered bass and changing tempo which brings early Fever Ray‘s dead-of-night sound to mind, shows off yet another side, before giving way to the kitchen-sink finalé of Nothing Bloomed, where co-producer Randall Dunn’s pulverising work with Sunn O))) and Earth steps cowled into the light.
Fisher’s voice cuts through it all, a central, spirited presence that’s impossible to dismiss. With an inventive rhythm section, the programmed and live drum beats define the backbone of the album as by turns propulsive, convulsive and – just sometimes – dance-inducive. There’s melodic nous here, too: topped up with keyboards, guitars and occasional scene-stealing sax appearances, Algiers are a band well tooled for sonic explorations.
Frequently thrilling and never boring, There Is No Year reveals subtleties amidst the powerful energy with each play, and in so doing shines a light on Algiers, a band who stride defiantly forth, urgent counterpoints vital for facing down the injustices of our times.