This Algiers article was written by Stephen Butchard, a GIGsoup contributor. Edited by Macon Oxley
Algiers are the sound of protest. The hypocrisy of western politics is laid bare in their provocative lyrics that rail against social and racial injustice at a time when ethnic minorities are in desperate need of a voice on both sides of the Atlantic. Their mission statement is direct and without pretence. The music itself is just as striking.
The Atlanta-based trio’s eponymous debut fused evocative soul vocals with a haunting post-punk backdrop and the aggression of DC Hardcore to create something original in its own right. But to reduce their sound to a few genre tags doesn’t come close to describing the intensity or immaculate approach to writing the band have displayed thus far. It’s one of the best albums of the year, and the band recreate it with added viscera in the live setting.
Opener ‘Black Eunuch’ sets the tone with frantic hand claps that hasten into a bustling double-time as Frankin James Fisher steps up to the mic, beating his chest as he does. His vocal is guttural and commanding, cutting through the bustling primal rhythms surrounding it. The sound thickens with walls of menacing reverb as the band’s guitars circle around each other in a dizzying cacophony.
It’s an intensely physical performance throughout. Fisher clasps a tambourine as their jams intensify, pounding it against his chest and throwing his fists into the air. Bassist Ryan Mahan screams his backing vocals until his veins are throbbing in his neck and slaps his face when he doesn’t have a hand free to clap. Their urgency is intoxicating, giving these songs the weight they require.
What’s most impressive is how fully-realised the band sound live, given the heavily layered arrangements within the songs on record. Every member is surrounded by instruments, synths, pads, loops and percussion, which are juggled well throughout their set. The clever manipulation of standard instruments is just as inspired, such as the haunting drone of Lee Tesche’s guitar, which is conjured through the use of a violin bow, as well as a slew of precise effects.
Vocal snippets from throughout American history are incorporated in their set, fueling their political message through the unnerving parallels between the state of race relations half a decade ago with recent tragedies in Ferguson and Baltimore. It’s a provocative choice to make, but one that highlights the relevancy of their songs while adding weight to every screamed lyric thereafter.
Their sound is loaded with cultural queues that only add to their musical power – from the soul-inspired bass lines to the post-punk menace of Lee Tesche’s guitar to the nods to hip-hop on the Afrika Bambaataa-sampling ‘Irony.Utility.Pretext’. The latter song rattles with a giddy drum machine as its rhythmic backbone, incorporating dance music so stylishly that it makes it easy to believe that Algiers could go anywhere in terms of sonic scope down the line.
Despite the intensity of the performance, Algiers are just as powerful when stripping their sound back to its bare bones. ‘Games’ sees Fisher backed by nothing more than sparse guitar arpeggios and the crack of his foot stomping on the stage – a possible homage to Funkadelic’s haunting opus, ‘Maggot Brain’. It’s an emotional performance that sees the audience transfixed. Not a sound is heard as he takes a breath before the feverish chorus.
The only underwhelming aspect is the loss of detail found on the record. Some of the ambient elements are drowned out within the mess of percussion blasts, which is perhaps to be expected in a venue as intimate as Hug and a Pint. In a larger setting, these elements might have more room to breathe. As it is, first time listeners might be losing some of the nuance present with Algiers’ compositions, but this is only a marginal issue.
The seriousness of Algiers music never gets in the way of how fun it is to listen to, and their ability to reinvigorate feelings of protest within apathetic listeners, such as this reviewer, impresses in its own right. Algiers are only one record in and they’re already one of the most assured live acts around.