Algiers: There Is No Year (Matador) Review | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Sunday, March 29th, 2020  

Algiers

There Is No Year

Matador

Feb 17, 2020 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share


Algiers promise more than they deliver. The quartet stand apart from the vast majority of their peers in their desire—nay, compulsion—to use every moment of their presence in the public space to challenge the status quo. Their stance, self-defined as pro-worker and anti-capitalist, marries well in theory with their predilection for some of music's most direct, cortex-targeted traditions: gospel, punk, rap. And yet their album releases, of which this is the third, fail to exceed the sum of their parts.

Algiers in 2015 and The Underside of Power in 2017, whilst ultimately lacking cohesion, were at least taut, pulverising sensory attacks, the fury of vocalist Franklin James Fisher fuelling the band to a therapeutically satisfying blend of message and aesthetic. This time around, the energy is constrained by a slick, studio sheen that stands in the way of their success.

The same revolutionary spirit animates the lyrics (all culled from an epic poem, Misophonia, that Fisher penned during a period of isolation and anxiety), but the same musical ferocity does not. With the exception of Matt Tong's bare-knuckle crisp drums, there is a clean-wiped sheen to the finish of There Is No Year, particularly strange given the credentials of its co-producers, Randall Dunn and Ben Greenberg.

"Repeating Night" and "We Can't Be Found" are examples of the strength of Fisher's vocal—defiant, uncompromising—not being matched by the rest of the track. There is a constant and deliberate state of unease, of anti-prettiness, as beds of synths, keys, bass, and atmospherics conjure cold, misty milieus and desolate, lonely vistas. But rarely if ever on There is No Year do these soundscapes coalesce into anything provocative, or, bluntly, particularly memorable.

Lead single "Dispossession" is the record's most direct, and consequently most successful, cut. With Fisher's words as prominent as they've ever dared to be, the seeping, private turmoil of economic and/or political powerlessness is writ large across the central manta: "Everybody wants to break down/How long is it gonna take now/'Til you realize dispossession is coming for you." The multi-tracked, echoed backing vocals of "you can't run away" give literal volume to the internal voice of truth that is becoming ever-harder to ignore.

"Chaka" provides one opportunity for the constraints to be beaten down—saxophones skronk into life, warehouse-clattering synths shatter in frustration—but the freedom is short-lived as we all too swiftly return to the safer, more controlled lane once more. There is a beast in Algiers waiting to be unleashed; any future record that cuts it free could be a classic.

The one moment of pure, visceral release comes with the added bonus inclusion of 2019 single "Void" at the album's close. Breathless, mutant drumming and maxed-out vocals clash with processed, buzzsaw guitars, all at a thrilling, whiplash pace. Where has this band been hiding?

In isolation, none of the tracks here are a write-off, but as a whole they don't connect into the holistic statement that writers and performers of this talent and thoughtfulness could achieve. If it's a call to arms then it fails to churn the necessary emotional juices to deliver it. What we do have, however, is a serviceable space for venting our contemporary anxieties, which in and of itself can be a healing experience. Ultimately, if you're struggling with the political realities of the day, Algiers are in it together with you, and that alone will be enough for some. (www.algierstheband.com)

Author rating: 5/10

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Average reader rating: 7/10



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