Algiers on “The Underside of Power” | Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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Algiers on “The Underside of Power”

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“I hope for the best, but expect the worst and prepare for it mentally,” says Franklin James Fisher, singer in the industrial-soul unit Algiers. “I wasn’t surprised by Trump at all. Not by a country that let George Bush take the election the first time, and then after it was proven that he started two wars on false pretenses, voted for him properly the second time.”

A political band since their inception, Algiers’ second album, The Underside of Power, takes its title from the bleak idea that one can’t understand true power until they’re on the opposing end of it. After touring the world for their self-titled debut, Fisher found himself back in NYC and working the coat check at a posh nightcluba role he found to be mind-numbing. (“It’s one of those jobs where you just have to stand there and eat it for eight, nine hours at a time.”) His frustration was compounded by a problematic, socio-political element found in tracks regularly spun in the club: mostly played-out hits by rappers like Kanye West, Jay Z, and Drake that make liberal use of the n-word, to which the drunk (and largely white) clubgoers would sing along.

“I’m not even sure if the DJs are into the music they’re playing,” says Fisher. “It’s just one massive product that they’re pushing to a lot of wealthy scenesters who’ll happily spend two, three, four grand at a table in one night. They’re just playing the worst shit imaginable…. It just makes you never want to play or listen to music again.”

The job forced Fisher inside his own head, where he would lash out at everything he found wrong with the situation. Some of these frustrations became the seeds for songs which were later fleshed out with the rest of Algiersguitarist Lee Tesche, bassist Ryan Mahan, and newly-joined drummer Matt Tong, who’d spent 10 years a member of Bloc Party. They describe The Underside of Power as an extension of the sounds from their first record.

“Anything that was angry, we wanted to make it angrier,” explains Franklin. “Anything that was sweet, we wanted to make it sweeter.”

Even they’ll admit the record is a little rawer than their first. The self-titled Algiers had the luxury of years’ worth of preparation; this one was written and recorded faster, over six months that were capped on each end by one of 2016’s most appalling political events. Sessions began in June at the Peter Gabriel-owned Real World Studios near Bath, in the United Kingdom, just days before the Brexit vote. Mixing would finally take place in November, in the wake of the U.S. election. These subjects would dominate their mealtime conversations with producers Adrian Utley (of Portishead) and Ali Chant.

“Those were our tragic bookends,” says Fisher.

While only a few lyrics across the album make direct reference to those particular events, the band’s fury over our current state of affairs can be felt throughout The Underside of Power. Opener “Walk Like a Panther” samples a passionate speech by Black Panther chairman Fred Hampton. “Cleveland” alludes to the murder of Tamir Rice; in the song, Fisher sings the names of persons of color who died under suspicious circumstances in American institutionsnames such as Sandra Bland, Kindra Chapman, Andre Jones, Roosevelt Pernellor in possible lynchings: Lennon Lacy, Keith Warren, Alfred Wright.

With the world appearing ready to fall apart around us, the participation of artists in these discussions must be more active than ever. Algiers do what they can.

“At the end of the day, we’re musicians,” says Matt Tong. “How much change can we affect? I don’t know, but we have to try.”[Note: This article originally appeared in Under the Radar’s Summer 2017 Issue (July/August/September 2017), which is out now. This is its debut online.]

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