The debut album from the post-punk/gospel trio Algiers is provocative, challenging, and nothing short of a triumph.
Aggressive music is all about catharsis, but it’s very rare that it has a purpose beyond that. Very often, aggression seems like the end in of itself for musicians, little more than just an expression of rage for its own sake. When that rage has a purpose, though, it can lead to some powerful moments. Algiers have rage and aggression to spare, but there’s a higher point to their anger. Given the times we live in, we shouldn’t be surprised: there’s plenty to be angry about in the world, and Algiers seem more tapped into social consciousness than any other band actively working. As a result, their debut is a revolutionary record, but not in the sense that it’s a radical reinvention of music. This is music written with a purpose, music to start a revolution.
Algiers work in pretty well-worn territory on this record; anyone with a passing familiarity with post-punk will likely understand where they’re coming from. However, one should not lump the band in with the likes of Editors, She Wants Revenge, or other blatant knockoffs hoping to pilfer the cool of the past. Instead, Algiers do something rather clever with this tried-and-true sound: they externalize it, taking the insular, inward trajectory of post-punk and turning it out onto an unexpecting world. What’s more, Algiers’ music takes a Southern bent, incorporating the traditions of soul and gospel into their dark world. Songs like “Remains” and “Blood” share these traditions, but the conviction expressed on these songs is not necessarily one of hope; there’s a palatable sense of dread and an acknowledgment of the darkness of the world at large. Elsewhere, “Irony Utility Pretext” and “Old Girl” feel closer to post-punk with flashes of electronica, but it never quite falls into pastiche. The result is something rare: a near-perfect mesh of melody and dissonance designed to lure the listener in before exposing the harsh truth.
That truth comes mostly from the mouth of Franklin James Fisher, whose voice and lyrics are what really define Algiers. Fisher’s voice is a powerful weapon, one that he wields as effectively and deftly as a master swordsman. Fisher’s voice keeps the album grounded in the real world, and it gives a touch of humanity to the proceedings when other artists may have preferred a more detached approach. Rather than disengage from the horrors around him, Fisher is actively attacking them, confronting the demons of a world he grew up in but doesn’t really feel a part of. The passion in his voice is infectious, and it makes for a truly compelling listen.
The band’s success isn’t entirely due to Fisher’s contributions alone, though. While Algiers have been notable for their open embrace of politics and provocative song titles and images like “Black Eunuch,” but they set out to make an equally confrontational musical experience. The band’s incorporation of gospel elements into their sound not only sets them apart musically, but it comes with a loaded historical context, one that was surely intentional. This is music that runs deep in America’s roots, but it’s also music that comes with a tragic backstory that many people don’t necessarily want to face up to. When Fisher sings about a chained man on “Remains”, there’s a clear connotation that’s impossible to miss, and Algiers don’t want you to miss it. It’s a deliberately provocative gesture, but it’s made with a purpose, which is all too rare these days.
You can make the case that Algiers aren’t original, but it’s hard to argue that they aren’t exciting. The substance of their music is rather uncommon, especially in an indie-rock scene that seems to be getting more insular by the day. Algiers have attempted the near impossible by trying to craft art with a purpose in 2015, but they have just about done it. With any luck, they’ll get people’s attention in the right way.