Misophonia, as described by Harvard Medical School, is when people are, “affected emotionally by common sounds”. This could come in the form of yawns, chewing or breathing. Introduced professionally in 2000, misophonia is often alternately known as a “hatred of sound”. So it may come as a surprise to learn that Franklin James Fisher, frontman of Algiers, opted to name a poem after the condition.
Algiers have forged a sound and space in the music industry unlike any other. A unique fusion of post-punk and gospel, their sound is indebted as much to political icons as it is bands of old. Their self-titled 2015 debut was a dark and intense introduction to a band wanting to cause disruption. If the 2017 follow-up ‘The Underside of Power’ was anything to go by, the group were willing to expand on sound and theme. Album three, on the other hand, is a sign of a band determined to compact itself in order to develop.
‘There Is No Year’ is at once destructive, noisy and frankly ugly – a side of Algiers that has been hinted at but never delved into as vividly as it is here. At ten songs and thirty-seven minutes, this is the Atlantan group’s shortest, and most urgent, album to date. The music is murky and, unfortunately, a tad indistinct. Fisher often sings of rebelling, but the instrumentation behind it is more focused on shaking its head disapprovingly.
The lyrics on this record are mostly taken directly from ‘Misophonia’ – the aforementioned poem by vocalist and guitarist Franklin James Fisher. His words paint pictures of dismal landscapes and war-torn cities. Fisher is angry and his lyrics attempt to translate this fury: occasionally blunt, frequently effective.
‘Dispossession’ finds Fisher’s vocal at its most purposeful. Strenuous and at the forefront, he sings of a sense of hopelessness: “Everybody wants to break down.” The piano-bashing track is emphatic; it is a song to march to, something to bash a drum to. The song centres around a message of getting ready to face off against someone – the issue is it is unclear who. The second verse repeats lyrics of: “Here they come…”; unfortunately it never pinpoints who the enemy is. Nonetheless when the instrumental is pulled from underneath, leaving just the vocal isolated, is irresistibly thrilling.
While a lot of ‘There Is No Year’ finds Algiers tripping over the same hurdles, especially in familiarity, ‘Chaka’ is their most distinct song yet. Oddly reminiscent of The Jackson’s ‘Can You Feel It’, it is lively yet profoundly miserable. Here, Algiers test the waters with some curiously sexy music: a synth-pop groove. Then the album’s highlight is only further enhanced by an angry sax solo fighting an assortment of digital sounds. It is a genuine moment of excitement in an album that seems resistant to excitement.
Elsewhere ‘We Can’t Be Found’ is a shining example of when the Algiers formula pays off. Ryan Mahan’s bass creeps in the background as choirs begin to swirl in the chorus. That chorus is, it is worth saying, sublime; a surprising lift, a swerve towards optimism. Unifying in nature and in sound, Fisher sings of togetherness: “We won’t show mercy.”
Algiers’ third album does not come without its disappointments, however. ‘There Is No Year’ is consistent in theme and sound, to the extent that the album is monotonous and, at times, boring. Too many of these songs will not stand the test of time, solely as they do little to distinguish themselves from one another. Many of the songs on the project embody the present viewpoint of hopelessness but none inspire the spirit of rebellion that Franklin James Fisher sings about.
On the other hand, there is great hope to find in the title track. With jarring, stabbing synths from the get-go, it is an intense assault of an album opener. The slick combination of Fisher’s thrusted vocals and the choral harmonies introduced in the first verse, it is a statement of intent. Similarly, the album closer ‘Void’ is the stand-out. Delivered at breakneck speed and rich intensity, Algiers embrace garage-punk with conviction. ‘Void’ wraps the album up in style and confidence, and is by far the most interesting song on the album.
‘There Is No Year’ is, in principal, a bold album. A gospel-punk album based around a poem, the concept is always going to be difficult to live up to. Unfortunately Algiers’ third album does not hit the consistent heights of previous endeavours. It is too moody to be rousing, too vague to be clinical. However the solid production and restless ideas go to great lengths to intrigue the listener. Will this be the landmark Algiers album? No. Nonetheless, at the very least, it is an indication of the sort of one-of-a-kind band Algiers can be.
‘There Is No Year’ by Algiers is out now via Matador Records