“These fascists don’t mask they faces / They do just what they do / The news said I was looney / Till poof, happens to you,” spits the Canadian genre-hopper, Backxwash, during the BPM panic attack of Bite Back. Also featuring underground rap veteran billy woods, it’s the message that underpins Algiers’ ambitious and defining fourth record, Shook.
The Atlanta collective (vocalist/synths, Franklin J. Fisher; multi instrumentalists, Ryan Mahan and Lee Tesche; drummer, Matthew Tong) have been fine exponents of informing their audience of the ruthless realities of this world. Blending their polemic dispatches with the origins of soul and gospel, Algiers’ boiling scrum of post-punk rage has seen them become one of the leading lights in progressive artistic expression over the last eight years.
Never ones to remain entrenched in one style, Algiers have always been a band with itchy feet, bringing about a positive unevenness to their work. It gives the band more authenticity, and on Shook, arguably their ambition and execution have never been more aligned.
From their doom-y 2015 self-titled LP to the urgent rush of 2017’s The Underside of Power and what was considered a noble lockdown acquaintance, the aptly titled 2020’s There Is No Year, Algiers flip the script considerably with Shook. Alongside an all-star cast of musicians from different creative orbits, here we see Algiers charge across borderless terrains.
With the blues-heavy soul punk stomp of opening track, Everybody Shatter, Algiers set out the stalls. Big Rube delivers the first of many missives that cut through to the bone. Later his call to arms reaches boiling point on As It Resounds (“The time has come to get from underfoot / Of the relentless oppression intended to cement our cultural regression / By combining as one”).
Alongside Zach de la Rocha, on Irreversible Damage this union is like a Run the Jewels-inspired dose of conscious rap, only with a renewed cadence. It continues on the aforementioned Bite Back, and the dub jazz fever dream of Something Wrong. Moments where Algiers near the summit of their creative arc, concocting every sonic shard and beat they have caught on tape over their preceding three releases.
During the freewheeling Out of Style Tragedy, Mark Cisneros parts with another vital vignette of the Shook story (“Here is the world / Re-mapped by Accuser / A frenzy of eschatological rage / And delight / Simulated revenge / Lighthearted violence.” It’s a snapshot of the malaise, and alongside their collaborators, Algiers remain unafraid to expose the ugly truths. So too with Good Man. A straight-up assault with new vigour and the sharp reflections this album’s themes command.
Alongside Future Island’s Samuel T. Herring and Jae Matthews, I Can’t Stand It! is a host of rolling rhythms and hard-hitting synths, creating the kind of atmospherics that stitch together the past and present. With the gospel-inspired snippets that have drifted in and out of every Algiers record to date, here the band showcase their dynamism with a song that looks through the lens of a world masked in dystopian dread.
And it continues with what is perhaps Fisher’s defining moment on Shook with Cold World. Trading verses with Nadah El Shazl, Fisher goes straight in for the kill, (“How can you say what is true / You get it all /Too much / Too Fast / Too Soon / It hardly amounts to vision“. From here, the story unfolds into brutal images of subjugation (The world / Is indifferent / Everybody wants to make or enslave you inside of their vision / The world / Isn’t different / From the days everybody got erased / In the Old World”).
Out of the malaise, on the closing track, Momentary, alongside Lee Bains III, Fisher finds some hope in what is the most defiant moment on Shook. Again, Algiers illuminate the morbid realities for so many, but still, they reach beyond the storm clouds in search of light.
Such as Shook’s expansive nature, it’s hard to get across it all. As time goes on, a record like this will bend and morph as the band’s messages reflect with different colours and tones over time. One thing’s for sure, though: Algiers will go on and fight the fight. A band that has the bark to match its bite, this is what makes Algiers one of the most important voices in music today. And Shook is another imperative chapter to their story.
Shook is out via Matador Records. Purchase from Bandcamp.