Album of the Week: Algiers | Under The Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Saturday, November 27th, 2021  

Album of the Week: Algiers

The Underside of Power Out Now via Matador

Jun 23, 2017 Algiers Bookmark and Share

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When it comes to good rock and roll music, the best combos out there are the ones for whom the subcategories don’t mean a thing. Really, though: how much rote emo, electroclash, chamber-pop, gangsta rap, witchhouse, garage rock (the ‘00s revival, I mean, not the actual thing), whatever, has ever held up past its sell-by date? The most memorable bands have no truck with this stuff, and dependably stomp all over the boundaries and kick dirt on the lines. Some boring square will always come back and draw new ones, no doubt, but the craftiest among us outrun any feasible borders long before said squares know what’s going on.

Algiers are definitely among the dirt-kickers. Their sound doesn’t come out of nowhere, by any means, but it combines its elements in surprising ways. Besides, they’ve got good jump-off points: mid-period Suicide, The Birthday Party, Big Black, PJ Harvey, maybe Killing Joke or Tuxedomoon. Franklin James Fisher’s voice is the powerful central instrument that makes it a damn sight easier for them to stand out in the current “post-punk” morass, but it’s still a voice rooted (at least figuratively) in the church; he drinks deep from that same well which has slaked the thirst of Marvin Gaye, Nina Simone, Odetta, Abbey Lincoln (especially the Lincoln unleashed on Max Roach’s unassailable We Insist! album), and countless others. In other words, they’ve good elements to work with, but that doesn’t make it surefire, much less original.

Why then, is The Underside of Power so great, even better than the band’s 2015-released self-titled debut? When you get down to it, I guess, it’s for the same reason any rock record is really great: it takes familiar elements and combines them in unfamiliar (but not quite scary-unfamiliar) ways, and does so in a way that speaks urgently to its cultural moment. Oh, and if it has catchy songs somewhere in there, which also helps. This has been the not-so-secret recipe for anyone from Buffalo Springfield to Prince, and when it is pulled off just so, any and all academic/critical malarkey gets crushed underfoot on the dance floor.

The Underside of Power‘s title track is likely to get the most initial attention, a modernized Motown stomp (albeit maybe the first with such an audacious noise-blast center) doubling as both fiery revolutionary screed and radio-friendly single. It’s a good entry point for the uninitiated, and one hopes a lot of people hear it, but it almost sells Algiers short in its ready familiarity. Tracks like “Cleveland” and “Death March” are less catchy, but they’re ultimately more representative of the dense, dissonant atmosphere the band has evoked since their wrenching debut single “Blood,” and they’re also the tracks that make it hardest to ignore the sociopolitical undertones.

The Underside of Power, taken as a whole, is fire. It may sound like I’m using soon-to-be-outdated nomenclature in saying so, but I mean it in a way that is ancient and elemental. If anything is right with this world, when the rest of today’s post-punk herd have found their way back to being baristas and Guitar Center reps, Algiers will still be fire, flames licking the sky, hot and eternal.

Read our review of The Underside of Power.

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