Release Date: Jun 23, 2017
Record label: Matador
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
As Her Majesty's Passport Office will attest, it's amazing what an appropriate backdrop will do for you. Algiers' second album emerges baring its teeth at a world as far from an even keel as it's been in recent times. Something that makes the impassioned, emboldened, enraged stand it takes feels particularly relevant. It's tempting to speculate that one followed the other, that The Underside To Power is a direct response to the current political and social climate.
Thanks to the advent of live streaming, dashboard cams, and body cameras, the tragic stories of those oppressed, abused, and killed by savage authoritarians are being broadcast to all corners of the world, whether those in command want them to be or not. With The Underside of Power, Algiers are providing a potent soundtrack to the modern uprising. The Atlanta quartet (now featuring Bloc Party 's Matt Tong) have composed a new album that stands as a brash statement of defiance against a turbulent world, one that is only growing more hostile and divided with each passing day.
On their self-titled debut, Algiers militantly asserted that the sound of resistance could be "musical" and that familiar sources could be utilized to create something groundbreaking. The Underside of Power goes even further. As a band, Algiers is not easy to define, and their music here -- which offers a perfect soundtrack for the disbelief and disillusionment of the Brexit vote and the ensuing rage and paranoia resulting from Donald J.Trump's election -- is equally mercurial, but not limited sonically or topically.
Drake? Calvin Harris and Frank Ocean? Sheeran? Nah, if it's the sound of the summer we're after it isn't party anthems or earnest balladry that we need - not this year. This year is marching song and placards, cracked voices and steely resolve and uprisings and anger. It's the sound of people paying attention, of standing up and clamouring to be heard, and there isn't much that's not drowned out by that.
ROCKS LIKE: The Pop Group, the Veldt, TV On The Radio WHAT'S DIFFERENT: This Atlanta-based act's 2015 debut, which gave us the sound of a soulful ghost in the post-punk machine, was rightfully called a stunner. And its deft interpolations of everything from dub to EDM to trap left Algiers with vast swaths of musical territory still to explore. The Underside Of Power reflects recent world events and is a darker-hued follow-up, yet even more insistent.
The Underside of Power echoes apocalyptically. The whole album, the second by the Atlanta outfit Algiers (so named for the anticolonial film The Battle of Algiers), sounds as if it were recorded in a vast desert where once a civilization stood. The plodding tom hits by drummer Matt Tong on “Death March”, the lumbering piano chords on “A Hymn for the Average Man”, the gospel holler of frontman Franklin James Fisher on “Cry of the Martyrs”: all of these contribute to an unnerving, tense sonic environment.
T he second album from London/Atlanta four-piece Algiers gleefully fuses classic 60s soul with post-punk experimentation to frequently astonishing effect. Against a constantly shifting musical backdrop, Franklin James Fisher's rich voice (think Levi Stubbs) is the one constant, whether undercut by discordant guitar noise and rapid-fire beats (Animals) or caressed by piano (Mme Rieux). The politically charged lyrics are no less incendiary, particularly on the gospel-influenced Cleveland, a furious complement to the Black Lives Matter movement that pledges justice for the victims of racist killings.
Instead of running away from the dark political times we live in, Algiers are running headlong into them. 'The Underside Of Power' is a brutal and intense reflection on the world as it is right now - one that is unrelenting, unapologetic and demands you to not just listen, but think about the things it's jabbing into your ears. Now with former Bloc Party drummer Matt Tong in their ranks, the four-piece are fighting against evil the only way they know how - blistering, socially-conscious songs that shake you to your core.
It's not easy to exactly pinpoint how our current political crisis started. There's many layers to really place the blame on any set political agenda, and depending on how you look it there's a myriad of reasons to justify a nation's discontent. Which is why it's equally troubling to assume that music will ever play a role in solving any of our problems.
Algiers' self-titled debut revealed a politically conscious band not afraid to use music to deliver a message. As the storm clouds continue to gather over America, the message has sharpened, and an already good band has harnessed the negative emotions sweeping the country to become something more. The Underside of Power is at once a lament for the state of race relations, and a rallying cry for the dispossessed.
Algiers' latest album was formulated while the band was in diaspora, spread out between London, New York and Atlanta and experiencing the world's recent events from slightly different vantage points. With many of the lyrics written from the confines of lead-singer Franklin James Fisher's place of employment (a frustrating Manhattan dance club's coat checkroom), the songs from The Underside of Power are highly volatile rebuttals to the current British and American political climates that encourage xenophobia and fear. With intimate views of both the Trump presidency and the Brexit decision, Algiers were in the unique position of observing two pivotal political eras simultaneously.
It would be an understatement to say a lot has happened globally since 2015, but a good example of this being reflected in the arts is Algiers' output. The 2015 eponymous debut from the Atlanta, Georgia-via-London band delved into America's dark history in terms of its race relations and acted as something of a warning against ignoring these plain truths. Well, here we are in 2017 and it's safe to say the US and UK haven't quite heeded these warnings.
Suggesting Birthday Party, Suicide or Public Image Limited taking a midnight leap in the mighty Mississippi, this Atlanta crew combines droogy post-punk rattle and churchy Southern roots music on their second album. Songs like "Walk Like a Panther" and "Death March" sound like they could stir the apocalypse, while the Memphis-tinged "The Underside of Power" stomps more generously. Singer Franklin James Fisher, whose multi-instrumentalist duties include everything from Rhodes to cello to sampling, is a perfect gospel shouter for our times, staring down darkness as he dances at the edge of our shared oblivion.
Algiers seem like a vision from a more progressive future: a mixed-race band from the American South fusing gospel and punk while challenging the capitalist state with righteous indignation. They're a ragtag group of dissidents confronting the established order with industrial hymnals, raging against the machine through experimental rock epics; a band whose very name refers to the anti-colonial struggle. After releasing their self-titled debut in 2015, the trio of Franklin James Fisher, Ryan Mahan, and Lee Tesche were joined by former Bloc Party drummer Matt Tong.
Algiers' self-titled debut album, released two years ago, at times felt inescapably dark. It was still beautiful, a blend of art-rock, post-punk, goth, soul and gospel, driven by the searing, sublime vocals of frontman Franklin James Fisher, lurching from one of their myriad genres to another. There was a feeling it would be pretty hard to top. It's all the more remarkable then, that their follow-up 'The Underside Of Power', which sees former Bloc Party drummer Matt Tong join the fray, is even better than their debut.