Pitchfork about Algiers:
„Algiers are a heavy band, though not so much in sound as in effect—they’re getting shit off their chest and piling it directly onto yours. Raised in the American South, they personify the foot-stomped physicality, call-and-response communiques, and outsized oration of the church, but their music is the anti-gospel. Rather than promote uplift, out-of-body ecstasy, and communion with the heavens, Algiers weigh you down with the burden of American history, a despair born of centuries of systemic oppression, and the soul-crushing futility of hoping for a change that never comes. Though they project the righteous indignation required of all great protest music, their music doesn’t so much represent a raised fist as a shoulder aching from the stress of trying to keep it aloft.
On their website, Algiers present a crazy quilt of musical and philosophical touchstones, which include everyone from Malcolm X and Angela Davis to Alejandro Jodorowsky and Basquiat to Public Enemy and Ian Svenonius. Their music is likewise a pastiche of transgressive rock signifiers: the soul-powered activism of early ’70s Motown, the proto-punk fury of the MC5, the synth primitivism of Suicide, the biblically charged drama of the Bad Seeds. But if the 11 songs on Algiers’ self-titled debut draw from familiar record-collector reference points, they’re radicalized by the context in which they’re being presented. Algiers are hardly the first biracial band to emerge from the indie-rock industrial complex, however, they are distinguished by their eagerness to make discussions of race the foundation of their ideological agenda, the gasoline-soaked fuse that sets their songs alight. For Algiers, signing to Matador isn’t just a means to reach more people; it’s an opportunity to thrust the modern African-American experience in the faces of an audience who rarely have to grapple with it.
Though steeped in Southern tradition, Algiers could not exist without all mod cons: with frontman Franklin James Fisher now based in New York, and guitarist Lee Tesche and bassist Ryan Mahan situated in London, the trio pieced the album together through transatlantic file swaps, atop bed tracks built through programmed beats or their own hyperactive hands and feet. But while the band have taken the somewhat inevitable step of recruiting a proper drummer—Bloc Party’s Matt Tong—for their current North American tour, the songs onAlgiers hardly feel like rough sketches begging for full-band embellishment. The brittle beats are crucial to establishing the album’s often suffocating atmosphere: on the mournful opener „Remains”, a chain-gang stomp provides a none-too-subtle evocation of America’s slave-trading past, while Fisher’s anti-television invective highlights the modern form of captivity that’s replaced it; the we-shan’t-overcome dejection of „Blood” is chillingly framed by a tambourine rattle and handclap that feel like lashes from a whip. „Four hundred years of torture, four hundred years a slave,” Fisher seethes on the latter song, as Tesche’s spasmodic guitar squeals emit sparks. But the noise ultimately relents, and the beat goes on, all while Fisher ruefully repeats the line „all my blood’s in vain.”
Though Algiers’ debut is dropping in the midst of a flashpoint in American race relations, Fisher’s lyrics avoid ripped-from-the-headlines reportage for a more existential angst. These songs were written before Ferguson and Baltimore, but they ultimately exist to remind us that such flare-ups aren’t the shocking aberrations that news networks make them out to be, but the inevitable, recurring spillover of a frustration that’s been simmering for centuries and will continue to in perpetuity. Accordingly, the savvily sequenced Algiers ebbs and flows between moments of gritted-teeth tension and furious release, its solemn, confession-booth ruminations offset by heart-racing, steeple-toppling rave-ups—like „And When You Fall”, „Old Girl”, and the planet-rockin’ „Irony. Utility. Pretext.”—that fulfill the prophecy of apower-music electric revival anticipated by some fellow Atlantans 15 years ago. While their messaging can sometimes be overshadowed by pulpit-thrashing theatrics (see: the provocatively titled but erratic „Black Eunuch”), Algiers can also harness their jittery energy to sublime effect: the piano-powered dub strut „But She Was Not Flying” contrasts the album’s most relaxed, easy-going rhythm with Fisher’s most incendiary, exasperated vocal performance, representing the mid-album peak where Algiers truly find their groove.
Despite their gravely serious demeanor and fierce intellect—this band doesn’t so much give interviews as present thesis defenses—Algiers ultimately value accessibility: from the participatory hand-clapped hysterics to their callback-ready refrains to their conflation of church congregations and circle pits, these songs beg for audience engagement and strength-in-numbers support. And if the album proves unrelentingly pessimistic in its worldview, Algiers do at least leave us with the faintest of silver linings. As the closing untitled instrumental takes the form of a thick, disorienting ambient fog, an early-’70s sample ofChicago pastor T.L. Barrett leading his Youth for Christ choir in an exultant chorus gradually fades into the mix and eventually overwhelms the track, as if to chase away the album’s dense, dark cloud cover with a ray of light. Algiers are never so naive as to assure us that a change is gonna come but, as that brief denouement suggests, in their hardened hearts, they haven’t completely given up on the possibility.”