The best bands are the ones that have a style and sound a bit difficult to describe. Algiers do not just fall into this category, they have nuzzled their way in, settled there, and produced a string of recordings that flagrantly defy category. There Is No Year, released on Matador in January, carries on that tradition. Born off the labour of two years spent on tour, There is No Year is more than a sonic document of a band in artistic ascendency eschewing third album “difficulties.” This is the direct action of a band caught, like all of us, in a year that has quickly unraveled into a global existential mess.
The musical tension Algiers creates is heavy enough that, I guess, they could qualify as a hard rock band. But that would imply a direct sonic echo of some strand of the conventional rock sounds: Zeppelin, Sabbath, punk, grunge etc. And even though this band has southern roots, there is nothing to denote an influence of, say, The Allman Brothers Band here. Rather, Algiers have more in common with Australian post-punkers The Scientists or even The Birthday Party, in particular the non-guitar sounds conjured up by Lee Tesche. (He’s definitely more in line with Blixa Bargeld than Duane Allman). Anyhow, the “rock” label would do a greater disservice for Algiers; it fails to capture just how moodily exotic There is No Year is, or how adventurously vibrant the band is. (Listen here for their true southern spiritual connection with this Outkast cover for a taste of what I mean.)
Drummer Matt Tong (ex-Bloc Party) kicks up a furious hell that doesn’t just ground the band, but welds them to the spot. This allows Tesche to scrape away at his strings while multi-instrumentalist Ryan Mahan layers on keys, samples, and bass to create a terrain of sound with elements of gospel, trip-hop, and industrial. The throughline in all of this is vocalist Franklin James Fisher, whose coarse R&B timbre colours each song. As the band cooks, Fisher’s vocals are like pan drippings of torment and salvation, doubt and wisdom. Whether or not the songs are autobiographical or speculative, Fisher lays down an authoritative vocal. A voice that is more of a controlled implosion on record can, in live settings, detonate like the Nitroglycerin-loaded trucks in Wages of Fear.
Overall, the songs stick to a tight structure that is certainly not “pop” oriented but is cohesive, engaging and hypnotic. These are infectious tunes, but too strident perhaps for generic tastes. Too “heavy” for rock radio programming. Methinks Algiers prefers it that way. Credit producers Randall Dunn [Sunn O)))] and Ben Greenberg [Uniform] for finding the perfect mood here of dissonance and harmony. From the corsucating (‘Losing Is Ours’) to the doom-laden (‘Nothing Bloomed’), from the prophetic (‘Dispossession’) to the tribal (‘Chaka’), There is No Year reverberates like few others.
Third albums are supposed to be a bands stumbling block, the album where the steam is out of the kettle and the songs are rushed and/or unfinished. But there is nothing uncertain on this breathtaking third platter. There are statement records, records with agendas and calls to actions — but There is No Year is a thesis of sound and energy, of social discontent and personal outrage. (This was all predicted by the late-2019 single ‘Can the Sub Bass Speak?,’ which served as an appetizer for this LP.) As 2020 dovetails into a year rife with virological concerns, economic disasters, and vast political divisions, an album like There is No Year and a band like Algiers, stand at the forefront of emerging voices that will take us deep into the chaotic nights ahead, giving our minds and ears purpose and poetry. Algiers drops Molotov-like beats that will shatter dismay, conjecture, and apathy, and remind all who listen that music is the power of revolution.