Algiers - Algiers (Cover Artwork)


Algiers (2015)


Algiers' debut album brought memories from the past year flooding back through every crevice in my brain. The first was seeing Mavis Staples perform live for the first time. I am reminded of her seasoned performance or her light hearted crowd interaction so much as the sinking feeling you get when listening to her songs. Sure, they're great, catchy and you're tapping your feet, but they're mired in the stench of civil rights atrocities. These are protest songs, after all. They're packaged in short, digestible pop melodies, but they're politically effective. We're decades removed from when these songs originated, but the eyes behind the voice singing those songs have seen things that put a whole lot of power behind the words.

The second memory is seeing Wings of Desire in a theater, specifically the scene where Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds perform "From Her to Eternity." Nick Cave slinks across the stage, his body movements matching the ever bending contortions of his voice, proving to the uninitiated that he is a cosmic force. The plot of the film moves forward, but Cave is such an enigmatic presence that he provides much more than just background noise, his voice basically serves as the setting of the scene.

Take those two memories and shoot them through Suicide's seminal track/bugfuck freakout "Frankie Teardrop" and you're close to what this album sounds like. But why parse through my reference points when you can just as easily listen to one of their songs?

The band's pamphlet-like website touches upon a variety of influences (John Coltrane, Throbbing Gristle, Public Enemy, Kate Bush, the many bands of Ian Svenonius). Tellingly, this is music that people with even the most insular tastes can most likely find something to sink their teeth into. Whether you like to ask "What is this feeling called love?" or if you wonder "Where did you sleep last night?" , there's something here for you. If you're both a gospel freak and distortion hound, then congrats, Algiers made an album just for you. If you also love protest music and political indictments, then you're in even more luck.

The lyrics of these songs are steeped in socio-political fury as well as gothic, religious imagery (influenced, no doubt, by their Atlanta, GA origins). Lyrics like "They swapped the dogs / and the cross / for sublimated forestalling / They changed the names / of the boss / Until you forgot who it was" combine the two topics, supplying you with either an inside look into hegemony in southern United States politics or an apt example of behavior that can be found anywhere in the world.

Now, don't let this fool you into thinking that this is a self inflated "important" record. This is not a band trying to promote their own egos here. "Irony. Unity. Pretext." finds just as much salvation in political activism as it does Afrika Bambattaa and "Rockit" era Herbie Hancock. The band takes the same route R&B/Soul singers did in the 1960s: they package their protest songs in hook filled, relatable songs that are palatable to the modern listener. Algiers just happens to inject their tracks with a little more rage and terror.

Whether you can appreciate the political leanings of this album or you just simply like the songs, it should be clear that Algiers have made an incredibly impressive and assured debut. Most vital of all is that they have made music that absolutely refuses to remain passive.