Album Review: Algiers – Shook (Matador Records)

by | Sep 25, 2023 | Album Reviews, Blog

Algiers latest offering, Shook, is an album that demands attention for its audacious musical sprawl and its trenchant political commentary. Far from being a mere composite of aural landscapes, it is a politically poignant, sometimes raucous, screed against a world in turmoil. With Shook, the Atlanta-hailing band defies easy categorization, synthesizing post-punk, industrial, soul, and even gospel elements into an always fascinating sonority. Bear witness for yourself as they kick off the 15th-anniversary celebration of Control Club on Wednesday, October 4.

From the outset, the listener is greeted with Everybody Shatter, an archetypal litmus test for the genre-splicing Algiers brings into their fourth album. The track pays homage to the funk sensibilities of Prince, marking an immediate departure from their previous works rooted in post-punk. Another highlight is Green Iris. The haunting vocals from frontman Franklin James Fisher, buoyed by smoky jazz piano tones, add emotional weight to the album’s confluent experience.

The weight of Shook’s political subtext is palpable. While other artists address social issues obliquely, Algiers confronts them head-on. Something Wrong, for instance, is an unapologetic indictment of police brutality and systemic racism. These topics are, unfortunately, perennial in the global social landscape. Lines like “Step out and face away, what are you on tonight? / On the sidewalk /Turn him around and roll him over on his side / What you on tonight?” leave little room for misinterpretation. 

The album’s interludes of spoken word commentary on non-white communities and their portrayal also add to its undeniable political messaging. These interspersed spoken-word interludes, such as Comment #2, serve as direct, biting observations on societal perceptions and prejudices. This use of spoken-word passages focusing on social themes recalls Saul Williams’s discography. Likewise, the album’s overall eclecticism is reminiscent of Radiohead’s latter-day explorations, albeit with a distinctly socio-political edge. 

Musically, Algiers draws its creative mood board from acts as diverse as DJ Premier, Dead Boys, DJ Grand Wizard Theodore, and much in-between. 73% evokes the punk prowess of Dïat, and its frenetic jazz rhythm conjures the chaotic genius of old-school Mars Volta. Here, bass and rhythm assume an almost polyrhythmic math-rock form. In contrast, A Good Man tips its hat to echoes of Joy Division with its aggressive guitars and hazy keyboards, while Cleanse Your Guilt Here owes a nod to old-school RZA. In stark contrast, Irreversible Damage sees the band dabbling in electronic and elements of New York drill, producing one of the album’s high points, as well as a collaboration with Zach de la Rocha. “What it be, God?/No rehab for my jihad” he expounds with radical confidence.

But the Rage Against the Machine frontman is but one talented feature. Verses from rappers like Dungeon Family’s Big Rube and various spoken-word artists do not overshadow the band. Instead, these collaborations amplify its central message, stitching together the album’s overarching narrative into a dialogue of art and ideology reminiscent of Public Enemy or Kendrick Lamar. Whether it’s Mark Cisneros ending Out of Style Tragedy with “Try to appease the twelve apostles of European neoliberal thought ” or Lee Bains opening Momentary with, “Where we’re from, we’re born out of a cloud of witnesses / who watched or walked through cotton-rich swamp-sick streets clamoring for freedom / Who snuck along the piny margins, meeting under the moon and moss / Just far enough out of sight of the white columns and the patrolling guns,” there is no respite from the political.

Shook is best encapsulated as an audacious endeavor. At its apex, it combines soul, gospel, jazz, and post-hardcore elements into a riveting conglomerate. Throughout, Algiers prove their unbridled talent and potential for offering effective socio-political commentaries and unpredictable musical avenues. With it, they demonstrate that they are cerebral and visceral musicians and cultural critics steeped in the urgency omnipotent neo-colonial corporate society requires.

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