By KYLE KERSEY
“There is No Year” begins where “The Underside of Power” left off: Franklin James Fisher powerfully performing poetry atop a flurry of synthesizer and drum machine. “We’re reaching out in order to get shot down / while the world around us just implodes,” he remarks, a theme that will be explored for the remainder of the record. But before we get into all that, some context is in order for who these guys are and why you should care.
One of the most politically charged bands of the last decade, Algiers’ first two albums blended Motown soul and hardcore punk with overtly political themes of revolution and social discontent with the status quo. It’s music for those who create playlists consisting of Marvin Gaye, TL Barrett, Death Grips, Rage Against the Machine, The Stooges’ “Raw Power” and Kanye West’s “Yeezus.”
The perfect example of said strange blend is the band’s 2017 sophomore album “The Underside of Power,” an unflinching damnation of our unsettling political landscape and one of my favorite albums of the last decade. More “Killing in the Name Of” than “Heard It Through the Grapevine,” “The Underside of Power” proved that if you’re gonna throw your hat into the political arena, do so with fire and intensity.
The fire continued leading up to the release of its third album, “There is No Year,” when the band released its most intense single yet, “Can the Sub_Bass Speak?” On it, Franklin James Fisher enacts spoken word on the hostile and condescending treatment he receives as a black man in America before delivering a manifesto on the suppression of the black voice in America, all atop a disorienting mix of samples and abstract jazz. It’s less a song than a cathartic release of balled-up anger, an audible manifestation of being fed up.
So color me surprised when I found out that “Can the Sub_Bass Speak?” is nowhere to be found on “There is No Year,” nor is the lyrical vitriol or abstract jazz (save for a few seconds on “Chaka”). If “The Underside of Power” is setting off the revolution, then “There is No Year” is like writing a good think-piece on late-stage capitalism for Vox.
The album takes thematic cues from “Misophonia” (meaning “hatred of sound”), a long-form poem exploring the chaotic nature of American society and band members’ personal lives written by Fisher. It can be found, in full, on the Algiers website, though the beginning of the poem appears on the album artwork. Besides cementing Fisher’s status as a talented writer, the poem presents us with two main recurring themes for the album: the emotional effects of sound and the fears of a world heading down an apocalyptic path.
Sonically speaking, it shares a common ancestry with the band’s prior records, but this time the band leans less toward punk and hardcore and more toward blues and alternative-rock (even a hint of “A Perfect Circle” in some of the guitar work, particularly the little solo on “Hour of the Furnaces”). Contrast the harshness of “The Underside of Power” with the smoothness of “Dispossession,” the music from which would work in a Chrysler commercial. Removing said harshness allows for “There is No Year” to be the band’s most accessible album to mainstream listeners, which is by no means a bad thing on its own. “Hour of the Furnaces” and “Losing is Ours” play like mournful eulogies, watching humanity march single-file and blindfolded into the inferno.
However, it soon becomes apparent how frontloaded the album is. Just about everything that stuck with me occurred within the first six songs of the record, “Chaka” being the clear dividing line of quality. Afterward, the band descends into underwritten musical compositions and melodrama. “Repeating Night” might be the biggest offender, offering up a thin guitar lead and stagnant rhythm section. By the time “Void” attempts to restore the energy, it’s too late and too damn messy to leave a lasting impact.
So where does all that leave us? Perhaps “There is No Year” faced an uphill battle from the start, stemming from the inevitable comparisons to the band’s sublime first two albums; the tragedy of high expectations. But that doesn’t make up for a back half as weak as this. In reality, it just makes me want to go listen to “The Underside of Power” again.
Highlights: There is No Year, Dispossesion, Hour of the Furnaces, Losing is Ours, Unoccupied
Algiers will be performing at Club Congress on Friday, March 20.