“When we die/our beloved/our kin folk/fear not/we rise.”
These bold words, courtesy of Lee Bains III, wrap-up ‘Momentary’, the closing track on ‘Shook’, Algiers’ fourth LP, and it’s this sentiment that perfectly encapsulates the Atlanta outfit’s latest opus. This is an album soaked to the bone with the struggles of the past but in equal measure, it’s bestowed with a thickened skin that’s battle hardened for the future’s inevitable onslaught.
The inception of the record is a result of serendipity; battered and bruised from relentless touring, the four piece were on the verge of imploding but just as they were at their lowest, Atlanta summoned them. When reflecting on ‘Shook’s origin, bassist Ryan Mahan pragmatically states, “I think this record is us finding home.” While vocalist Franklin James Fisher adds, “it was a whole new positive experience – having a renewed relationship with the city we’re from and having a pride in that. I like the idea that this record has taken you on a voyage but it begins and ends in Atlanta.” Melding together disparate sonic outposts from punk to gospel, electronica to spoken word, ‘Shook’ is a bubbling cauldron rich in influence but the band’s unique identity is very much rubberstamped across it. Not content with keeping their newfound inspiration to themselves Algiers enlisted a broad roster of vocalists to contribute on the album, including Zack de la Rocha, Big Rube, Samuel T. Herring, Jae Matthews and many more. It’s like Algiers have assembled a gang of like-minded acolytes to help preach their message of a tarnished yet empowered modernity to the masses.
‘Shook’ is an album buoyed by a kinetic energy, it’s where electronics gurgle and contort and where a punkish snarl stalks the shadows while Fisher takes up the mantel of a preacher regaling us with stories of spiritual recession and cultural oppression but all flecked with an enlightened resilience. Big Rube’s closing monologue on album opener ‘Everybody Shattered’ typifies this aesthetic as he drawls, “we imprison ourselves and don’t see we have the keys to unlock the shackles.” ‘Cleanse Your Guilt Here’ in title alone glows with an evangelical hue, which is exemplified by the warm crackle and pop of a gramophone-like nuance. The minimal yet impactful ‘Bite Back’ wriggles and writhes via tip-toeing piano and effervescent electronics, which sees Fisher teaming up with billy woods and Backxwash. From it’s sparse beginnings it eventually evolves into an abrasive wall of sound that has Fisher implore, “bite back the hand that feeds you if it’s poisoned.” ‘I Can’t Stand It!” featuring Samuel T. Herring, aches with despair as Fisher’s delivers “outside the kingdoms are falling/all because the serpent is calling/everything I ignore is a warning” like a man who’s haunted by mistakes being repeated over and over again. The sound of rain, disembodied whispers and the slow hum of keys and handclaps usher in ‘Green Iris’s mournful tone. Fisher can be found in a reflective mood as he simply questions “how I wonder what went wrong” while a swell of gospel and jazz expand into a grandiose cavalcade of noise as the traditional segues effortlessly into the contemporary via beats and electronic flickers. ‘Something Wrong’ jitters with an anxious energy as it twists and turns through a patchwork quilt of fragmented sirens, clicks and clacks before a rapid beat injects a hefty dose of urgency. As the intensity heightens, you can hear Fisher bellowing “get out the car right now son/go on and fight back!/get out the car right now son/go on and fight back!/get on the ground right now son/go on and fight back!” which sounds starkly like an encounter that’s sadly all too common these days between a person of colour and a police officer.
There’s a cinematic quality to ‘Shook’, whether it’s the ever-evolving soundscapes, Fisher’s powerful vocal performance or the short electronic interludes and spoken word, voice-memo-like moments, there’s no denying the album’s scale and ambition. Understandably with that comes a pendulum swing of vivid emotions. “All You See Is” is perhaps the most striking of interludes as an unidentified man states, “you can’t tell me anything about pain unless you’ve been there in that foetal position”. If you offset that lyric against the guttural scree of ‘73%’, ‘A Good Man’s untamed aggression and all the forays through electronica and soul, you’ll understand the record’s multi-faceted voyage through the human condition.
Weathered yet unflinchingly defiant, ‘Shook’ is the result of a band operating at the peak of their powers.
Words and thoughts by Adam Williams
pre-order Shook by Algiers HERE
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