The Underside of Power


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The Underside of Power Review

by Thom Jurek

On their self-titled debut, Algiers militantly asserted that the sound of resistance could be "musical;" that familiar sources could be used to break new ground in sonic polemics. The Underside of Power goes further. Algiers is not easy to define, and their music here -- which offers a perfect soundtrack for the disbelief and disillusionment of the Brexit vote and the ensuing rage and paranoia resulting from Donald J.Trump's election -- is equally mercurial, but not limited aesthetically or topically. With drummer Matt Tong now an official member, and producer Adrian Utley acting as one, this album extends the band's reach to accept (not always willingly) a new, disturbing, and dystopian frontier -- alongside a determined hope to transcend it.

In opener "Walk Like a Panther," Franklin James Fisher's howl of indignation and pain voices what his mind perceives as a seemingly impossible realization: "We won’t be led to slaughter/This is self-genocide!" It erupts atop post-industrial funk and elusive, insistent trap beats and shard-like guitar fragments enveloped by a crushing wall of synths that erupt in an apocalyptic crescendo. This revelation is unacceptable as both the music and the vocals rail against what the lyrics reveal. A crack emerges between the perception of reality and the intent of resistance. The juxtaposition of Southern African-American gospel in "Cry of the Martyrs"-- a paean to female emancipation in spite of apocalyptic oppression -- and the Northern Soul in the title track sounds like post-punk and sheer noise colliding with the harmonic innocence of another time; it’s not only startling, but jarring, and almost violent in its ability to force the listener from passive complacency to uncomfortable investigation.

The anger and disillusionment on Algiers' debut were expressed through its raw, unhinged mix. Here, while their outlook is overall less tolerant, it's voiced with more atmospheric control. "Death March" employs this strategy as guitarist Lee Tesche's nasty guitar riff engages in interplay with Ryan Mahan's spiky bassline atop a deep, dark Depeche Mode-esque vibe. Likewise, the lone instrumental, "Bury Me Standing," utilizes a lonely clarinet in place of the human voice, making full use of space. Fisher is accompanied by a doom-laden choir of the damned on "Cleveland" as he rails against hate crimes and murder committed against African-Americans by police. While "Hymn for an Average Man" offers a momentary respite in waltz time with carefully structured, contrapuntal harmonies in its first half, it resolves as an agonizing collision of nightmarish prog and violent dissonance. It sets up the fingerpopping, fractured, souled-out, post-punk gospel of "The Cycle/The Spiral: Time to Go Down Slowly." Here Fisher resumes the role he introduced on "Walk Like a Panther": That of the old testament prophet coming to collect on the karmic bill. Scraping, fuzzy guitars, rumbling basslines, wonky upright pianos, syncopated backbeats, dubby vocals, and punchy synths swirl as they resist the waves of mounting despair. Algiers ultimately turn doomsday on its head unexpectedly. On The Underside of Power, they assert that even amid violence, darkness, and horror, that the human spirit is affirmed through witness and resistance, leading not only to solace but to redemption.

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