Contemporary music is often criticised for being politically apathetic but Algiers' eponymous debut is politicised and full of energy.

Algiers debut review

Algiers - Algiers 

4 and a half stars

The very first lingering dark synthesised note of opening song, ‘Remains’, sets the mood for the album. It is not going to be a smooth ride. Enter the vocals and the outcome is compelling, raw and gospel in style rubbing up against stark, industrial melody, making for a debut album that’s minimal and loaded with intensity.

The Deep South inspired backing vocals are laced with an effect giving the impression of distance, as if captured on ancient equipment then translated through modern technology, sounding like the ghosts of America's shameful history of slavery. Lead singer, Franklin James Fisher, builds a sort of angst and tension occasionally throwing a lyrical punch: “and when you fall, you’ll know exactly who we are”.

 

 

Algiers constantly refers to social and musical history. ‘Blood’, nods to Robert Johnson’s 1937 song “Love in Vain”, but this already painful blues reference is given a twist, replacing the word “love” with “blood”. “All my blood’s in vain”, holding a first person subjective position until the final verse: "400 years of torture, 400 hundred years of pain”, then “Our blood is in vain” assuming a multitude, backed up by those haunting backing vocals. It’s difficult to ignore the historic references and the urgency of the delivery; the kind of urgency synonymous with protest—this, after all, is a political album of social unrest brought right up to the present day through the ghosts of its own past. Although it doesn’t directly reference the racial tensions in the U.S. (Ferguson, Baltimore), it’s a timely message relevant to all oppressed societies in the West.

 

 

But it’s not just the politicised vocals driving the album. The music itself, although dark and minimal, is a powerhouse; a energetic version of experimental synth-music from the late 70s to mid 80s (‘Irony. Utility. Pretext.’ in particular provokes an 80s nostalgia), as well as the industrial movement of the 90s. What makes it sound new is this unusual coupling with soulful vocals. It’s a coupling that is barely broached in music, although it does bear similarities to the much less political TV on the Radio. Speaking of their unusual combination of styles, bass and synth-ist Ryan Mahan told The Quietus:

“There is a sense of a grappling with the notion of musical history, that exchange is not free and that the music industry has been affected by the same violent impulses underpinning colonialism or capitalism. It speaks to the limitations of communication and the monstrosity of entertainment in such times. It is also a matter of personal preference. We all are drawn to experimental forms that emerged in the intervening years between gospel and 'noise', and certain points of intense cross-pollination, drawing the lines from Kraftwerk through Bambaataa, Section 25, Cybotron and Throbbing Gristle.”

Sound a little too intellectual? A little daunting? It’s true that Algiers take themselves very seriously - making for a rough read in the only interview I managed to find with them - but this doesn’t mean their music is not accessible. It is an earnest album with such heart that it is difficult to stop listening. Haunting, soulful and incredibly beautiful, this is a record that grabs hold of you and doesn’t let go.

Key tracks: “Blood”, “Black Eunuch”, “Irony. Utility. Pretext.”

Like this? You may also like: TV on the Radio, The Temptations, New Order

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