Algiers’ self-titled debut album, released two years ago, at times felt inescapably dark. It was still beautiful, a blend of art-rock, post-punk, goth, soul and gospel, driven by the searing, sublime vocals of frontman Franklin James Fisher, lurching from one of their myriad genres to another. There was a feeling it would be pretty hard to top.
It’s all the more remarkable then, that their follow-up ‘The Underside Of Power’, which sees former Bloc Party drummer Matt Tong join the fray, is even better than their debut. It’s still multi-faceted and broad in its range, but so much more streamlined and more focused, bringing inflections of soulful pop and electronica closer to the surface. ‘Smoother’ seems the wrong description, given Algiers’ music still boasts as much, if not more, of the uncompromising political force of old, but the bonds between genres seem tightened; there’s even less cracks, and even more power.
‘Cleveland’, the album’s second single, is probably the best articulation of this, with a gospel choir’s swells of vocals given momentum by a brutalist beat infused with electronica and a looming overtone of doomy gothic drone. It’s an unnervingly good Molotov cocktail of an instrumental, gospel, drone and when seized by Fisher, equal parts Marvin Gaye, Nick Cave and MC Ride, imbued as if with the power to transcend every one of these styles and harness them as one. There are many good singers in the world, but it’s hard to think of many with such a universal potency.
And that’s not even the album’s best song, for that honour must go to the title track, ‘The Underside Of Power’. It’s not as remarkable in terms of its breadth as ‘Cleveland’, or in terms of unstoppable energy, as on the manic hardcore of ‘Animals’ or the relentless, pump of ‘Walk Like A Panther’, which opens the record with Fisher howling as if from the depths of a distorted hell, over a rabid, anxiety-inducing beat.
‘The Underside Of Power’ beats all of this by strength of pure, old-fashioned songwriting. The record’s lead single, it’s had months to sink in, yet every single time you hear the band launch from sublimely simmering verse to an enormous, powerhouse soul chorus, it’s just as sweet as the last. It’s one of the year’s finest pop songs at its core, inflected with barbed spikes of guitar and poetic, politicised lyrics, the final package a charged piece of total, faultless brilliance.
As an album, though still swinging from one place to another with glee, ‘The Underside Of Power’ feels important, and very, very serious, as a body of work. It is one of the year’s very best albums, and sets out Algiers as one of the decade’s very best bands.
Words: Patrick Clarke
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