Album Of The Week

Album Of The Week: Algiers Shook


The Bronx DJ Grand Wizzard Theodore is best known as the man who invented the record scratch as a rhythmic device, but his most famous musical composition isn’t entirely driven by the scratch. In 1983, a 20-year-old Theodore contributed a short instrumental called “Subway Theme” to the soundtrack of Wild Style, the low-budget independent film that has the historical distinction of being the first hip-hop movie. “Subway Theme” is a funky, skeletal groove that plays while Zoro, the film’s graffiti-writer hero, rides the train downtown, looking out at the apocalyptic, bombed-out landscape around him and at the strange, beautiful art that covers the trains. The track sounds tough and lonely at the same time, and it quickly became a rap-history touchpoint.

The first thing that we hear on Shook, the new album from the Atlanta band Algiers, is a robot-voiced automated announcement taken, field recording-style, from the Atlanta airport. The second thing that we hear is “Subway Theme.” On Algiers’ track “Everybody Shatter,” the sound of “Subway Theme” is muffled and faraway — a distant thrum that became a backbeat to inhumanity. Over that familiar groove, replayed by the band rather than sampled, Algiers leader Franklin J. Fisher sings in mythic terms about atrocities visited upon Black people: The Atlanta child murders of 1981, the MOVE bombing of 1985. With every bleak new historical moment, Fisher mutters about how it just keeps happening: “Got stopped in ‘21/ But if they said your name, you might live on/ It’s the same song.” Then, bass explodes, drums get loud, and Fisher howls about wanting to dance into the After.

Algiers are not new to this. Over four previous albums, Algiers have made their own urgent and feverish form of right-now blues. Algiers don’t really have a genre. They’ve drawn on post-punk, on ’60s rebel rock, on classic soul, on gospel, on rap, on experimental noise. Franklin J. Fisher sings in a full-bodied wail, and he and his bandmates conjure stark, grinding soundscapes that speak to oppression. The band got its name from the fight against French colonization in Algeria and also from The Battle Of Algiers, the classic 1966 movie about that struggle. Algiers speak the language of historical resistance, and they know that they’re part of a whole protest-art tradition.

On Shook, that tradition opens up. Algiers have always been a self-reliant entity, and they haven’t necessarily had much to do with whatever else is going on in the musical landscape. Algiers record for Matador, but they aren’t a Matador band, if that makes sense. Shook makes it a little more clear what kind of band Algiers are. “Everybody Shatter,” for instance, ends with a verse from Big Rube, the Atlanta spoken-word philosopher whose deep, rumbling voice is so familiar from so many Dungeon Family records. The song also has backing vocals from Mark Stewart, best known as the leader of late-’70s British post-punk experimentalists the Pop Group. That’s the kind of band that Algiers are — the type who would put Big Rube and Mark Stewart together over a “Subway Theme” interpolation.

Shook is a collective effort about collective efforts. “Irreversible Damage” has Zack De La Rocha raging over a blaring digital alarm: “My peace torn in an alley abandoned and murdered, then reborn in a beat form/ Breathless, I exhale, then rearm.” First single “Bite Back” has billy woods and Backxwash, two of the most vital and challenging underground rappers working today, rocking over chaotically dubbed-out drums and horror-movie piano plinks. woods: “Sweet saccharine dopamine pour out the screens/ Distant gunfire crackling/ The whole thing cracking at the seams.” Backxwash: “These fascists don’t mask they faces, they do just what they do/ The news said I was loony, till poof, it happens to you.”

When Big Rube and Mark Stewart and Zack De La Rocha and billy woods and Backxwash appear on Shook, their voices almost work like samples. They draw on our collective memories, and they help place the album within a historical context, as well as a right-now context. Algiers know that they’re raging against the same problems that have bedeviled Americans since before America was America, so their protests are just as rooted in history as the evils themselves. Their comrades are rooted in history, too. Mark Cisneros, former guitarist for DC garage-punk revolutionaries Make-Up, plays throughout Shook. Various different spoken-word poets make appearances. So do indie rockers like Future Islands’ Samuel T. Herring and Southern rocker Lee Bains III, giving his own spoken-word piece about funeral rites as the LP ends.

In some ways, Shook is a patchwork of references. On “Out Of Style Tragedy,” Franklin J. Fisher murmurs about exploding jets and dead hostages while voices chant the refrain from Sun Ra’s “Nuclear War.” “A Good Man” reimagines Them Two’s often-sampled 1967 soul-funk obscurity “Am I A Good Man” as gnashing, self-lacerating garage rock, changing the lyrics so that they come from a white guy who insists on his own innocence: “Not like my father! Look into my eyes! My POC friend can testify!”

Shook is a dense record, and its sound is harsh and vivid and layered. Most of the members of Algiers play multiple instruments; the exception, former Bloc Party member Matthew Tong, really smacks the fuck out of his drums. In its noisy, jarring quilt of samples and guitars and field recordings and industrial hums, Shook evokes the frantic, overwhelming bad-news onslaught of circa-now life. People felt besieged by information in 1988, too, and the Bomb Squad drew on that feeling when they produced Public Enemy’s It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back. Shook feels like an attempt to translate that feeling to an even-more jagged age.

In its post-genre omnivorousness, Shook recalls recent work from other end-times collage artists like clipping. and Sightless Pit. But Algiers’ perspective is more specifically Atlanta, and Franklin J. Fisher’s voice gives Algiers a more direct line to Southern soul and its many ancestors. The music is provocative, but it’s pleasurable, too. In Shook, I hear some of the grand catharsis of rap and punk and MC5-style bomb-throwing garage-rock. Parts of Shook feel freaked-out and terrified, and parts of it feel triumphant. Sometimes, those are the same parts. Good record. Play it on your headphones the next time you’re riding a train across an apocalyptic, bombed-out landscape.

Shook is out 2/24 on Matador.

Other albums of note out this week:
• Gorillaz’ Cracker Island
• Death Valley Girls’ Islands In The Sky
• Maxo’s Even God Has A Sense Of Humor
• BIG|BRAVE’s nature morte
• U.S. Girls’ Bless This Mess
• Philip Selway’s Strange Dance
• Shame’s Food For Worms
• Key Glock’s Glockoma 2
• Iris DeMent’s Workin’ On A World
• Yeat’s Aftërlyfe
• Gina Burch’s I Play My Bass Loud
• mui zyu’s Rotten Bun For An Eggless Century
• The Necks’ Travel
• Don Toliver’s Love Sick
• Tink’s Thanks 4 Nothing
• The Church’s The Hypnogogue
• Jenny O.’s Spectra
• Chicks On Speed’s Uploading The Human
• Dougie Poole’s The Rainbow Wheel Of Death
• Sam Gendel’s COOKUP
• Model/Actriz’s Dogsbody
• Miss Grit’s Follow The Cyborg
• Lucero’s Should’ve Learned By Now
• Hundred Reasons’ Glorious Sunset
• David Brewis’ The Soft Struggles
• Gina Birch’s I Play My Bass Loud
• John Bence’s Archangels
• Insomnium’s Anno 1969
• Unloved’s Polychrome
• Tha God Fahim’s Iron Bull
• Whose Rules’ Hasler
• Icestorm’s The Northern Crusades
• Karol G’s Mañana Será Bonito
• Adam Lambert’s High Drama
• Babymetal’s The Other One
• Gracie Abrams’ Good Riddance
• Dierks Bentley’s Gravel & Gold
• Logic’s College Park
• Godsmack’s Lighting Up The Sky
• Neutral Milk Hotel’s The Collected Works Of Neutral Milk Hotel
• Motörhead’s Bad Magic: Seriously Bad Magic
• NNAMDÏ’s Please Have A Seat (Deluxe)
• Kate Fagan’s I Don’t Wanna To Be Too Cool (Expanded Edition)
• Naughty By Nature’s 19NaughtyIII (30th Anniversary Edition)
• Ty Segall & Emmett Kelly’s Live At Worship
• Gruff Rhys’ The Almond & The Seahorse soundtrack
• Cola’s Deep In View (Deluxe)
• Channel Tres’ Real Cultural Shit EP
• $uicideboy$ & Shakewell’s Shameless $uicide EP
• Wanderer’s Indulgence Of The Unreal EP
• Dirty Bird’s Riddim Seeker EP
• Letdown.’s Crying In The Shower EP

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