Algiers find themselves lost on ‘There Is No Year’

Tuesday, February 4, 2020 - 3:42pm

NOSELL

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After the release of their 2017 album, The Underside of Power, it was unclear which direction Algiers would take their music. The only certainty was that their next full-length project would come with a lot of expectations. 

With The Underside of Power, they managed to perfect the gospel and post-punk sound they flirted with on their debut record. Many fans were simply hoping to hear more of the same. Others wanted more noise-rock and post-rock influences in their repertoire. Regardless, the anticipation was palpable. In late 2019, the fans finally got the news they wanted, as Algiers announced their next release for Matador Records, There Is No Year. The question now was whether they would expand on the sound of their last record or go in a completely different direction. Unfortunately, we may have set our expectations too high.

This is clearly a new sonic direction for Algiers. The novel sound expresses a sentiment of dilapidation and exhaustion, which is best illustrated with their heavy use of synths. This is not to say that the project takes sounds from synth-wave or adds pop qualities to their music. In fact, most of the synth lies in the lower register which adds an ulcer-inducing tension with nearly every track. Often this record feels subterranean, like on the track “Wait for the Sound,” where the pulsing, synth bass mixed with the lead singer’s soulful crooning can easily get under one’s skin. This track also exemplifies Algiers’ decision to make this record their least instrumentally dense, with the synth and vocals being the two primary forces of the song. Quite poetically, There Is No Year tries to be the valley that comes after the mountain that was The Underside of Power. The problem surrounding the new record is the band’s inability to fully commit to this new style. Whether it’s on songs like the title track, or the closer “Void,” or in other smaller moments, Algiers can’t seem to let go of their post-punk roots. They can’t fully rid themselves of the wall-punching, bombastic energy that has started to define them, and the lyrical content certainly proves the point. 

Algiers have always embodied the spirit of protest. The genesis of their name ties back to the city itself, which is known for having a history of anti-colonial dissent. Frontman Franklin James Fisher uses his powerful lyricism and forceful vocal prowess to create this atmosphere. In this particular album, he weaves a narrative addressing the disintegration of society and the individuals that inhabit it. On the track “Dispossession,” he aims his crosshairs directly at the current state of America and how it has developed from a place that once offered so much, to one that takes as much as it can. Each track develops its own idea that ultimately contributes to the overarching narrative in a way that feels uninterrupted. Perhaps it’s not so surprising that nearly every word on this album comes from an epic poem Fisher wrote titled “Misophonia.” The poetry on this record is almost breathtaking at times, but it never aligns with the music playing beneath it.

Ultimately, this conflict between verse and music demonstrates a fundamental issue surrounding the band. It feels like they haven’t located their identity yet. Embracing their post-punk roots would mean having to forgo the less-is-more approach they have towards instrumentals; favoring this new meditative and gloomy atmosphere would require the lyrical content to complement this dourness better. It seems like they are struggling to make this decision, which is strange considering how confident they sounded on their previous release. It could be that There Is No Year is actually an admission of this apparent lack of direction. The album cover even alludes to this — large block letters spelling out the name of the band are depicted tumbling above the picture of a man falling through the sky. Perhaps Algiers feels as though they are the man tumbling through the sky, powerless in their movement.