Algiers’ second album, The Underside of Power, in 2017 was a masterclass in world music for the new world order. While successfully blending industrial post-punk and gospel musically, singer Franklin James Fisher possesses the sort of soulful oratory power that took the record into almost biblical evocations. If anything follow -up, There Is No Year, is even more prescient politically and socially but, at times, powerful in its knowingness to relent as the band create a sound that’s uniquely outlandish and groove-led, while at the same time feeling like their most spacious and crystalline yet.
With a heavyweight cast and special attention paid to every detail (the lyrics on the record are a reworking of the singer’s epic ‘Misophonia’ poem; itself a study of how sounds can trigger emotional and physiological responses) There is No Year peels away some of the layers to reveal a more personal side to their songwriting to explore notions of free fall, loss of control and disorientation.
I caught up with drummer Matt Tong (formerly of Bloc Party) for a quick chat…
Where The Underside of Power was visceral protest music There is No Year is more sparse but, if possible, even more relevant in today’s society as we continue to flirt with the extreme right. Is there a concept in mind at the start of the writing/recording process?
I think Frank wanted to take his writing to a more abstract place this time round. He’s very fond of the process of searching for clues in art and he wanted to bring this closer to the front for this record and create a different experience for our listeners. He is still building on some of the themes established in our earlier work, but feeling like you have to be so explicit about everything is fatiguing, you know, and I think we’re aware that if we’re constantly dialling up everything it can also wear out the listener as well! I think that may well have influenced how he approached his cadence and the placement of his words and we had to design a sonic template to reflect that.
Portishead’s Adrian Utley produced The Underside of Power. Was the change in production this time important to keep pushing things forward?
Not necessarily. It’s just that we established a rapport with Ben Greenberg (Sunn O))), Earth) and Randall Dunn (Uniform, Twin Peaks: the Return, Pharmakon) towards the end of the last record, which helped it reach completion, and we began a conversation with them about where we could take our music and they had some good ideas about how we could reorganise our workflow, which can err towards the chaotic sometimes. Workflow seems like a prosaic starting point for a record, but it actually resonated with us and I think it bears out in the album we finished up with. It’s a more focussed work than Underside, which is no criticism of Adrian or Ali Chant (who co-produced with Adrian). Circumstance dictated that Ben and Randall ended up in our frequent orbit and we wanted to see what we could create with them.
The album cover is incredible. Is that important to how the record is immediately received?
Lee (Tesche, guitar) has a background in design, so it’s just more natural to him to have a strong grasp of the symbiosis between album art and the music itself. For this record, he collaborated with his Lyonnaise bandmate, Farbod Kokabi, who runs the Geographic North label out of Atlanta and is a fine designer in his own right. We had a fair amount of time to perfect the visuals and then our presentation of this record was mainly influenced by Frank’s desire to build the artwork around his lyrics. As such, it’s a bit of a task to abstract the artwork from the music itself, so you could argue that there was intent on our part to use the album cover to subtly guide people’s experience of the record.
I tried to explain the album to my girlfriend by getting her to imagine a soundtrack to the alternate 1985 in Back to the Future Part II. All your music is evocative but this record conjures a more urban and bang up to date theme. Is it directly informed by current events?
That is a great way to describe the record!! In the song nomenclature there is, of course, one very direct reference to where we were pulling some of our influences from and I refer you to ‘Chaka’. I feel like songs like that hint at what may have occurred had artists working in hybrid r’n’b pop of the early to mid-80s taken a more dystopic view of the events surrounding them. Is the record directly informed by current events? It’s pretty obvious that things aren’t going so well, right? But does every single thing need to be directly addressed? Not always. We’re also aware of the escapism offered by music and art. The news is bad enough as it is, we’re not trying to give everyone stomach ulcers.
The record is very danceable at times as well particularly the second half… was this intentional?
Hmmm. I mean, we have been known to hit the club from time to time, though I do think my knees are starting to give out. As you can tell, we pull in a lot of different influences, it just so happens that the rhythms ended up being tighter on this record.
You are doing a short UK tour in February, what can we expect from the live show?
We have three records, so I think we now have enough songs to help manage the transitions from one genre to another. We also have some new synths that Ryan (Mahan) just cannot wait to wail on! We’re working on tightening up the live show a bit, you know, we just want to be undeniable at this point!
FEBRUARY UK HEADLINE TOUR:
3.2 Brighton – The Haunt
5.2 London – Village Underground
6.2 Manchester – YES
7.2 Glasgow – Stereo
10.2 Leeds – Brudenell