The Underside Of Power


Matador, 2017

REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray


Hitting hard with the power of industrial, the fervor of gospel, and the indignation of punk, Algiers’ second album is a rallying cry for a tough time in our nation.

The Southern quartet – Bloc Party drummer Matt Tong joined up two years ago – refuse to be defined by labels personal and professional and to create a work together. Chief songwriter Franklin James Fisher began writing the songs while working in a New York club, drawing inspiration first from white privilege and his experiences as a black man in America, and then more broadly from the Brexit and xenophobia that colored so much of political discourse in late 2016.

So the anger inherent in the lyrics and music comes through in the industrial core and overdriven guitars, giving the album a loud and sometimes nightmarish personality. You know things are tough, but when the haunting “Mme. Rieux” and tribal chants that lead off “A Murmur. A Sign” arrive in the album, you start to feel a bit hopeless, maybe angry, maybe something you can’t identify but that gnaws at you.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The approach is best when the production is scaled back a bit and the song is allowed to breathe, as on the powerful one-two punch of “The Underside Of Power” and “Death March” or the Trump voter-message “Hymn For The Average Man,” which tries to be both heartfelt and creepy with its strings and Tim Burton-esque piano interlude. It’s like a horror film soundtrack, which is precisely how many see the current administration, I suppose, especially if they’re not white Christian males.

The approach is worst when the production runs rampant and the whole affair gets bogged down in guitars and voices that are too distorted and noise that has no clarity, muddling the message. The instrumentals “Plague Years” and “Bury Me Standing” don’t really go anywhere, biding time between the proper songs, while “Animals” is snarling industrial punk that is more attitude than anything else. With a bit of restraint, some of the songs and overproduced noise could have been developed into something truly cohesive that enhanced the message. The litany of references on the disc only underscore this.

But when Algiers is at their best, nobody else sounds like them, as on the epic gospel/NIN closer “The Cycle/The Spiral” and the aforementioned title track, the two best songs here (with “Walk Like A Panther” a close third). A ragged, uncompromising blast of noise and fiery anger, The Underside Of Power has no problem calling out those who cause all this hate and anger and division (especially on “Cleveland,” which references the killing of 12-year-old Tamir Rice, and also name-drops Sandra Bland and Alfred Wright) as well as those who allow it to happen.  

To be sure, there are those who will disagree with the politics or who don’t see America the way it’s portrayed here. But that shouldn’t matter, because anyone with open eyes and at least a passing interest in the news was aware of the intensity and division with our culture over the last couple of years, and that a wide swath of our fellow Americans are unhappy – even angry – with the direction our country has taken in its responses and actions. To them, this album might seem like a polemic, but somehow I don’t think Algiers has a problem with that. They just want you to listen…and then act.

Rating: B

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



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