If rock n’ roll’s pioneers were almost exclusively black – Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley – then as a movement their successors have by and large been poorly served by it, constricted by its gradual slide from relevance and pushed to the margins by a form of the art which has largely abandoned them.
Algiers’ Franklin Fisher is a black man fronting a band who play some of the most polemical rock n’ roll music sitting in the mainstream; the quartet are willing soldiers who, in an age where dissidents harass what is a corporate war machine in everything but name, are as outspoken and impassioned as anyone.
Purists may argue that rock n’ roll is the last descriptor which could apply to There Is No Year, the group’s third album which takes in variously post-punk, soul, gospel and techno amongst a shifting mix of styles, but as a chapter of a revolutionary movement, homing it here is where it makes most sense.
Much of its lyrical content is based on Fisher’s lengthy poem Misophonia, which arcs narratively across the band’s personal experiences and is named after the condition from which people develop a total aversion to certain sounds.
All this could give the impression of musicians binding themselves too tightly, yet the results can be approachable; Dispossession is Algiers at their post-modern sermonising best, a thumping piano and harmonised choir baptising listeners whilst warnings are issued: “Here they come with a technicolour antidote/for your hopes and your dreams”.
Equally, for people who think that modern society is teetering on the brink of destruction Algiers can be surprisingly abandoned, as the gothic synths and slavish beats of Unoccupied combine with Fisher’s searching voice into a highly danceable cocktail. Either through despair or exhilaration they rarely stand still however, Losing Is Ours a brooding, fearful slow jam while the futuristic beats and harmonies of Chaka eventually lose the centre ground to a dissonant sax skronk.
This sonic restlessness (Fisher has claimed that if there were ten Algiers albums a year, they would all sound different) means that whilst whatever’s behind Door Number 2 can be a shock, there’s little opportunity for them to establish a mood, groove or overall direction. This hurts them: at their least complex on We Can’t Be Found, the threads of a great neo-soul song are almost at the surface, before quickly being obscured again.
It’s easy to feel this constant tension between wanting recognition as artists or proselytizers, evident in the final couple of songs, the atmosphere created by ominously potent Nothing Bloomed then ripped to shreds moments after finishing with the hardcore punk mayhem of the closer Void. If their chosen method is conform to deform, they need to hold more doors open for listeners than this.
When the world seems about to abandon us as rock n’ roll has done its makers, then there will still be prophecies to cry and stories of the end to tell. Whether There Is No Year is a soundtrack to it or bears false witness, Algiers will still be radicals without a pause.