Bleakest Backrooms Of The Summer: Clash Meets Algiers
‘There Is No Year’ - or so goes the title of the mighty fine new album from Algiers, undoubtedly one of the finest bands on the planet at present.
With their sinuous and yet somehow simultaneously elastic melding of musical styles and potent lyrics, the band have, over the course of three albums, become something that many bands crave to be: important.
‘There Is No Year’ undoubtedly feels crucial. As such, it felt timely that Clash fired over some questions to the band’s drummer Matt Tong, on the eve of the album’s release and of an upcoming EU tour you will not want to miss.
Here’s hoping that this is, actually, their year.
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For anyone new to Algiers, how would you describe yourselves and what you do?
Oooof. Ok. You asked for it.
Algiers, as well as being the capital of Algeria (and one of the venues of a revolutionary war that continues to inspire us and from where we derive our name), is an international four-piece that mainly hails from Atlanta, and although I am also from the south (of England, Bournemouth), it rather interferes with the narrative to make such a facile and redundant comparison.
We have variously been referred to as architects of “dystopian soul”, “industrial soul punk”, “punk industrial soul”, “political dystopian rock soul” and well. You get the picture. Nowadays we seem to show up on a number contemporary post-punk playlists and maybe that works just fine.
You decide, it’s your adventure!
For those of us who’ve been with you from the beginning, what led you to the glorious record that is 'There Is No Year' since we last heard from you?
The story of this record begins with Ben Greenberg, who co-produced this time round, and who stepped in when we were almost at the end of our tether with our last record. He performed a vital act of triage that helped us order our ideas and get the record ready to be mixed by Randall Dunn, who also co-produced this new one. Having had this dramatic introduction to us and our methods, they came up with a masterplan to help us tighten up our operation and 'There Is No Year' is the result of a concise and focused recording session that took place in New York during the final weeks of spring last year.
Randall and Ben also devised a specific sound world for this record; they had a very clear idea of what synths, drum sounds, reverbs and amps they wanted to use and they didn’t really deviate from that once we started. The result, I think, is something that marries the monolithic statement of intent of our first record with the more expansive songwriting of the second one.
‘There Is No Year’ feels the closest snapshot of the energy of your live show that you have committed to tape so far.
Was there a deliberate chase to be more direct and abrasive this time?
I’m glad it comes across. We’ve all been a little worried that perhaps it wasn’t direct enough, but if you folks think otherwise, that’s great! We toured for two years with the last record, so I think it’s perhaps inevitable that the things you start doing on stage begin to filter back into the creative process.
Frank really grew into his role as a singer this time round, so maybe you’re picking up on some of that too. Also Randall began pushing Lee to see his playing as less of a textural component and more something that could drive the melodic aspects of our songs, so maybe that’s a new presence that gives a little more drive to this record.
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There’s even more urgency, lyrically and musically, on this record than on your previous two, in my view, as on ‘Dispossession’. What led you to the lyrical choices you made on this album?
Frank wanted to come to the recording sessions with lyrics that were mostly finished, versus writing under duress in the studio. He worked hard on our European tour early last year to compose an epic poem, “Misophonia”, with the intention of pulling parts out of it and plugging them into songs where he thought appropriate. So by and large, each song forms part of a more expansive work and maybe there is focus there that has previously gone unheralded.
When we have spoken previously, you’ve spoken of the eclectic backgrounds and outlooks which the members of the band hold. What do you think draws you together and keeps you together as a unit?
Most likely desperation at this point. Heh. The Atlanta faction (and by that, I essentially mean the band) has known each other for a long time. A really long time. There are deep personal connections there that hopefully are enough to sustain us through the difficult times.
There’s a huge level of detail in your compositions and performances. What’s the writing process like in the band?
Don’t even ask, man. What kind of question is that?
Oh gosh, now I’m on a real sick trip. I mean, I guess it’s a lot of file sharing and chipping away at each others’ ideas until we’re all really upset and frustrated and then someone has the bright idea of booking a recording session. Luckily Frank’s a monster singer so he does a lot of the heavy lifting and we can just build things up round him. It’s not as easy to do when you’re not working with quite as compelling a singer.
What keeps you hopeful?
On ‘We Can’t Be Found’ and ’Nothing Bloomed’ which close out the album, hope feels a distance away.
Can you see things getting better?
It’s a part of life on the left. Just seems like you spend most of your time diagnosing problems and hoping someone with real character can come in and help put the fires out. It seems like things are going to have to get much worse before people wake up. I absolutely despise, “well in my day...” because the young are simply inheriting the world we’ve given them, but I also can’t help thinking that we rarely notice what we’ve fucked up for the young until it’s too late.
I’m really late Gen X but I suppose one thing that I cling to is that my sensibilities are at least a bit closer to whatever has followed. That could be powerful moving forwards if, across the generations, we’re all interpreting the problems we face in a similar way. You’ve got a pretty extensive UK and EU tour coming up.
Which places are your favourites to play?
I love going to Scotland. I’ve always been interested in moving to Glasgow. The Balkans is also a very interesting place to perform. I would love to go back to Kosovo. We had an incredible time there a couple of years ago.
What one album, book or film should everyone who reads this check out immediately?
I’ve been working through Rachel Cusk’s Outline Trilogy. As an exercise in relaying oral history and a meditation on asking questions and listening, it’s pretty phenomenal.
Weyes Blood made a wonderful record last year. She took away all the shitty half-arsed aspects of Lana Del Rey and shone what remained through a prism of Gene Clark’s ‘No Other’ and finished up with something that sounds so familiar, yet elusive and disconcerting, like the midday fragments of a vivid dream from the night before.
Film? Parasite, of course. Multi-genre class warfare horror show. Eat the rich, baby!
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'There Is No Year' is out on January 17th. Algiers will play the following shows:
3 Brighton The Haunt
5 London Village Underground
6 Manchester YES
7 Glasgow Stereo
10 Leeds Brudenell
Words: Haydon Spenceley
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