Algiers are a difficult band to pin down, in more ways than one. For starters, they’re based in three cities across two different continents. Musically, they’re a sprawling and multi-faceted project, embracing freewheeling rock‘n’roll energy, post-punk grit, the brute force of industrial electronics, the transcendence of gospel and the power of experimental noise, all colliding to make something new. They’re formidably well-read and politically engaged. Ruthlessly well-honed and forward-thinking, they’re also pop devotees who spent 2017 on an arena tour with Depeche Mode and are now getting ready to release their powerful third album There Is No Year on January 17.
It makes them all but impossible to neatly package up, and that’s the way they like it. “If we made 10 records in a year every single one would sound different,” says frontman Franklin James Fisher. In attempting to describe exactly what the band does, many have reached lazily for ‘gospel-punk’, but a straightforward mash-up doesn’t even come close. “As if it’s the white person making the punk and the black person making the gospel,” laughs bass and keys player Ryan Mahan.
Fisher and Mahan knew each other through their time gigging in their native Atlanta, Georgia, but formed Algiers while studying in London along with guitarist Lee Tesche, who remained in the States. After releasing their self-titled debut album in 2015, they recruited former Bloc Party drummer Matt Tong. “The three of them have known each other for so long, and whether they recognised it or not they had such a strong sense of their identity,” he says. “They were open and generous with me about where they were coming from, and how their own personal experiences informed the band, which wasn’t necessarily my experience in the last band I was in. It was quite easy for me to slot in.”
Algiers’ politics are fundamental to their craft. Their name itself is a tribute to the African city’s role as a key site of anti-colonialist struggle. “I cannot imagine anyone at this particular point in history that’s making music that lyrically-speaking that does not in some way reflect the desperate and totally absurd and hopeless political landscape that we’re in,” says Fisher. Yet what’s important to note about the band is that it remains only one of their many aspects.
“I get frustrated when people cast us just as a protest band, or rabble-rousers with a cause,” says Tesche. “People ask me more about my thoughts on current events than our music, which can be frustrating because at the end of the day we’re a band. Ryan’s one of the best songwriters and bass players I’ve ever played with, and Matt has a storied history as an incredible musician. Franklin’s the best singer and best musician I’ve ever worked with, and it’s kind of a shame not enough people talk about the scope and poetry of his words.”
Fisher’s writing certainly deserves attention, particularly on ‘Can The Sub_Bass Speak’, a standalone precursor to their new album. Over a frenzied jazz instrumental, Fisher breathlessly spits back ignorant comments he’s heard time and time again. ‘Nah, you, you don’t really talk like a black guy / I mean, you’re black but you ain’t really black […] / How does it feel to be a black man making white music?’
“It’s the last statement I will need to make for a while about personal racial politics,” the frontman explains. “I got tired of talking to a majority white media about me being black. The lyrics are just me very easily recollecting every audacious racist thing that’s been said to me my entire life, and things that have been written about us. It felt so good to exorcize that, and not to have to carry that around with me anymore.”
The lyrics on the new album are all sourced from an epic poem written by Fisher, Misophonia, and see him turning that momentum inwards. Where their last album, The Underside Of Power often felt galvanizing, There Is No Year has a sense of looming dread at its core. “Before [my writing] was rooted in systemic things, in ideas, larger structures, societal issues,” says Fisher. “This record does that as well, but I also found a space to emote things that registered on a human level. To ask: ‘What’s it like to be a human being at the end of the world?’”