US rumblers Algiers release their new album "There Is No Year" and come on tour. This time it has more of dronemetal than R&B.
Confusing: Algiers behind the mirrors Photo: Christian Hogstedt
"You look like Denzel Washington! You look like Forest Whitaker!" 37-year-old Franklin James Fisher has often heard such poisoned compliments, as have many African-Americans:inside. Fisher grew up in a white Atlanta suburb, his father working there as the first African American county doctor. His son was equally interested in books and punk, formed a band, and later studied and taught English literature.
In the tradition of writers like James Baldwin, Fisher records his experiences in song lyrics: In them, there are subtle hints as well as blatant examples of racism. Art as a condensed form of anger and fear, a classic approach to pop. "For me, it’s best when I’m constantly lyricizing," says Fisher, sitting in a denim jacket and white shirt in his record company’s Hamburg office. "Not just when there’s an album coming out. So I’ve been working steadily for a year and a half."
The first auditory result of this writing frenzy is "Can the Sub_Bass Speak?", a track by his band Algiers released in summer 2019. It’s a list, delivered at an enervatingly frantic speaking pace, of disrespect and insults the singer has had to listen to over the years: "Where are you really from in Africa? How does it feel to be a black man making white music?"
Saxophonist Skerik soars to shrill jazz heights, a drum kit stumbles, a bass thumps, while Fischer declaims faster and faster. Again and again he shouts, "You niggers don’t know how to act." In German: "You niggers have no manners." A sentence like a kick in the pit of the stomach, a sentence that slaves had to endure for centuries.
Algiers: "There Is No Year" (Matador/Beggars/Indigo).
Algiers formed in Atlanta in 2012. Bassist Ryan Mahan and guitarist Lee Tesche knew each other from the underground noise scene. Three years later, former drummer of the British band Bloc Party, Matt Tong, joined. The band released two albums and was celebrated for its massive mix of new wave, soul, post-punk and gospel. Now Algiers is releasing its third album, "There Is No Year." It was created together with Randall Dunn as producer; a sound engineer who already orchestrated the brute sound of the drone metallers Sunn O))). The result: Algiers sound even harsher now.
Power and assertiveness
Aggressive synth beats and mechanical drums dominate the ten songs, only now and then a piano or a distorted sax solo shimmers through. From the R&B sound, which is sometimes attested to the band, is no longer much to feel here. "I still can’t tell exactly who played what – I was never in the studio at the same time as the others," says Fisher, a first-rate singer.
Feb. 14, Cologne, "Club Volta"; Feb. 15, Schorndorf, "Club Manufaktur"; Feb. 17, Frankfurt, "Zoom"; Feb. 18, Dresden, "Beatpol"; Feb. 24, Munich, "Strom."
The music comes largely from Lee Tesche, says Matt Tong. "He plays the guitar in an unorthodox way," says the drummer. "Lee always goes to the hardware store before recording. His basement becomes a laboratory: a world of wonder! Mountains of sawdust and broken tools."
For all the joy of experimentation, no track on "There Is No Year" can match the urgency of the bonus track "Can the Sub_Bass Speak". The song title refers to an essay by literary scholar Gayatri Spivak and her theories about society’s marginalized, who are speechless in the face of an overbearing system of domination.
One would undertake the "post-punk deconstruction of ethnic and class-oriented politics," they let it be known in advance. Unfortunately, the band does not get more concrete, Fisher’s song lyrics are full of pathetic metaphors. There is talk of collapsing houses of cards, of crumbling kingdoms and of fire raining down on the streets. Algiers have power and a sense of validity.