Young band Algiers from Atlanta releases their brilliant eponymous first album
Numero met up with Algiers and reviewed their first album influenced by punk, gospel, rock and soul music.
A young group from Atlanta, Algiers make music that flamboyantly mixes punk, cold wave, English rock, rap and hip-hop in a volcanic alchemy of exuberant, rebellious vitality.
Algiers is a hard drug. The kind cut with rock, punk and gospel. Algiers is the energy of soul transmuted into punk rage, it’s violent cries of wild beauty, it’s eternal slave songs that break your heart, it’s guitars and bass in fusion, musical eruptions that seize you bodily, plunging you into a trance. Algiers is a black sun, a sublime gleaming magma. Hailing from Atlanta, this young group doesn’t simply borrow from the Deep South black musical traditions of its members’ childhoods, but shakes them up until they blister with fresh and rebellious vitality. Rhythm box, voice, drums, guitars and bass serve as sonic signposts, here evoking Nina Simone and Motown, there, Joy Division, Nick Cave, Alan Vega, Public Enemy or Afrika Bambaataa. But the avalanche of raw talent soon drowns out all the references.
The cracked voice of Franklin James Fisher, accompanied by his bandmates, Ryan Mahan and Lee Tesche, plunges us into Dionysian chaos, as though taking part in a voodoo rite. As much as their songs are marked by urgency and despair, the band members appear calm and reflective. “Getting out of Atlanta was a question of life and death,” explains Fisher. “Creative expression is just impossible in the city’s slick suburban sprawl. For all three of us, England became a kind of sanctuary.” And also the place of their academic and intellectual coming-of-age: for Fisher this involved a thesis in comparative literature with a study of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World and Michel Houellebecq’s The Elementary Particles, for Mahan a degree in comparative politics at the London School of Economics, while Tesche was the last to arrive in the British capital. It was there, in 2010, that the trio first made music together, and also in London where Algiers recorded their eponymous first album, in just five months.
But the violent and cathartic passion of their music comes above all from their acute sense of political engagement. “We come from a very conservative background,” Franklin explains. “In high school it was unthinkable that a white girl would go out with me, because I was black. One has only to look at the violence suffered by African Americans in the last few years, and by minorities in general, to realize that artists should be the first to speak out.” A fight for diversity that transpires not only in the group’s mixed ethnicity but also in its influences and lyrics. “We oppose the very idea of segregation, of an identity imposed beyond the remit of choice. It isn’t because you are black or white that you should listen to or enjoy a certain kind of music.”
The group refuses the easy and stereotyped collusions between “black” music – hip-hop and rap – and “white” music – rock and electro – in their most superficial and commercial aspects. For them, fusion is something that must happen deep down, right in the belly of the volcano.
Algiers by Algiers (Matador Records), available.
By Thibaut Wychowanok