I feel like I’ve seen a lot of bands forcing genres together - black metal and shoegaze (Deafheaven), indie rock and hip-hop (Why?), jazz fusion and rap (Flying Lotus’ You’re Dead) - and I could go on and on. Often genre mashing can be a bit gimmicky, but if it’s done right, it can be a recipe for some of the most unique and forward-moving music you’ve ever heard. The above is a list of artists who have pulled off genre mashing well (let’s just ignore the bad ones, okay?), and I say let’s add another one to that list: Algiers, whose self-titled debut is a near-perfect fusion of industrial, post-punk, and gospel. These guys are much more than genre mashers, though: While pulling musically from Gnarls Barkley, Savages, and Radiohead, Algiers throws in plenty of dark and (literally) revolutionary lyrics that address the injustices and terror of the 21st century with a clear call-to-action - a mark that most 21st-century bands have missed.
The first song, “Remains,” starts out with a low, ominous industrial hum, slow drums and claps, and soulful “mmm mmm”s. Then Franklin James Fisher opens in his roaring gospel voice: “And the chain man sang in a sigh, ‘I feel like going home,’ ...While the captors boast on how they can lower your costs. The rich men gamble at the foot of the cross.” The song gets progressively bigger - gospel singers join in the background, the drums get louder, the industrial hum starts to shake the floor - and Fisher gets angrier without losing his melody. At the end, Fisher shouts, “But there’s a brand new show for you to watch today, so all the western eyes can look the other way. We’re your careless mistakes, we’re the spirits you raised - we are what remains.” Fisher simultaneously places himself musically as well as socially, and he very directly tells his audience - growling on the word “western” - that his place in the world only exists because the world is such a fucked up place. To put it bluntly, this is some dark shit, and the rest of the album doesn’t let up. The lyrics make you grimace, and you probably wouldn’t even be able to get through Algiers if the album weren’t so damn catchy.
Every song on this album is simultaneously experimental and accessible, to the point that it’s hard to believe that this is just a debut. The next songs on the album, “Claudette” and “And Then You Fall,” make good use of drum machines and low echos reminiscent of Joy Division and screeching, one-note post-punk guitars a la Savages. All the while, there are menacing gospel howls in the background that add a whole new dimension to the song. The fact that these songs exist at all is musically interesting, but the fact that they actually sound really good makes me fall in love with Algiers after the first few tracks.
The fourth song, “Blood,” is a post-punk slave song (if you can imagine it) with plenty of slave imagery that’s both modern and historical: “Flash across your screen, they got you in their hand. Fifteen minutes of freedom, still ? a man.” Every song has enough musical and lyrical substance to deserve in-depth analyses that I’m sure will be dripping from English majors’ essays in due time, so I’ll leave that to the English majors. Let me at least list some of the highlights: “Irony. Utility. Pretext.” sounds like an R-rated Thriller; the single “Black Eunuch” features chopped, soulful guitar work and eventually drives into a rocker that sounds like what would happen if Gnarls Barkley recorded Hail to the Thief; the Radiohead influences continue on “Games,” which sounds like a more socially-aware but equally-eery “Nude.” Really though, Algiers is one of those not-skippable albums; listen to everything this album has to offer.
Why all the blood, chain, and slave imagery on this album? Algiers hails from Atlanta, GA, a city that the band supposedly hates. This album is condemning a racist, often-southern America and demanding that the public rise up against it. Truly, Algiers are a protest band. A quick glance at their tumblr-styled website showcases images of experimental/radical bands like Les Rallizes Dénudés, retro rally posters, and the Black Panthers. Since, say, Fugazi, I can’t even think of many bands that could be considered both accessible and deeply socially conscious; 21st-century bands' first priority has been pushing musical boundaries and leaving social commentary as a bonus if they get around to it (just look at the bands I listed at the beginning of this review). I’m sure people will throw up their hands and say, “Of course there have been socially active bands!” but I feel like most of these bands followed The Smiths' lead and sing about sad personal experiences and the social injustices they think about in their bedrooms. Algiers is singing about injustices people face in the streets every day. If you want forward-thinking music that delivers melody, rhythm, and ideas rather than just cool riffs and apathy, you absolutely need to listen to Algiers.
9.0 / 10
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