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Algiers
Algiers Karl Smith , June 1st, 2015 13:57

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The bemoaning of popular culture (or an inability to keep up with the Kardashians) for an apparent 'lack of depth' is a redundant pastime undertaken principally by morons with too much spare time and not enough peripheral vision. Like classic car fairs, this kind of cynical critique is the remit of Golden Age revisionists – people (almost exclusively White Male people) nostalgic for a time that simply never existed. Even if it were true, what we're talking about is a symptom and not a disease – it's pretty much as close to Grade A 100% Pure Bullshit as one can get to suggest that life imitates art. Art is reactive, it's visceral, it doesn't necessarily want you to like it — it just wants you to fucking listen, OK? And, in that sense, the sonic and lyrical brashness of Algiers' eponymous debut (the overt political nature of songs like 'Black Eunuch' and 'Blood') is not just a successful album, but about as close as you're going to get to The Real Deal.

Algiers co-opt the Situationists in their (genuinely brilliant) video for 'Irony. Utility. Pretext'; a counter to the inherent falsity of the claim of pop's vacuousness, and a rage against its own machine. "ART IS DEAD DO NOT CONSUME ITS CORPSE" is not an attack on art at all, but on the mechanisms of its distribution and consumption. Because, ultimately it's money and power – the infrastructure of capitalism – that allows for the facilitation of art, becoming at its core is not the desire to create but to consume, subsume and ultimately destroy. Only to replay over and over, ad nauseum for maximum profit. Concisely, as front-man Franklin James Fisher puts it: "You waited centuries for change and they gave you more of the same".

Cyclicality though, does have its place on Algiers as a powerful device against itself. The sound and presence that the band creates is a co-existence of gospel, industrial and a swathe of other musical and artistic influences, from Bboy Breakbeat to Dadaism. It's a re-contextualisation of the past (or, pasts) of the band's own ancestries. When asked about the part gospel music played in his childhood in Atlanta, Fisher recalls both its proximity to and its distance from his own life. Its deployment, then, in Algiers' music – its part in their bringing to the fore the inherent institutional social, racial and dehumanising economic injustices and destructive power of capitalism, as is their modus operandi – is a wonderful and bracing metaphor. It is both a rallying cry steeped in a complex social and cultural history, and a nod to the invisible hand, the snake eating its tail end for all time.

While it is perhaps lazy or obvious to compare the sound of a three-piece from Georgia (now based in New York) to a recent TV series like True Detective or to its precursor in the literary Southern Gothic tradition, things that are lazy or obvious aren't necessarily untrue. The rapacious drum machine and low-ringing church bells that open 'Old Girl', for example, overpowering the distorted vocal human element, are — in their commingling of the melancholy and the sinister — a kind of pathetic fallacy in the same way that the harsh and unforgiving nature of the landscape imagery functions as being near-omnipotent in those other art forms. And, in that same vein, it would be remiss not to mention religion — which, like capitalism, regardless of where you stand, is unequivocally there. It's present not only in the gospel quality of Fisher's voice, but also in the lyrical content: "Oh Lord, / what the devil sees in them / Oh Lord, / what the devil sees... / Oh Lord, / what the devil sees in them / Down down down down...", self-assured as The Church itself, leaves precious little room for interpretation.

Perhaps a less obvious comparison is to late-90s and early-00s (post-)hardcore, both in terms of the way that noise is harnessed instrumentally as its own vehicle for aggression, and — more specifically — the tangible link between Algiers' 'Irony. Utility. Pretext.' and glassJAw's now-infamous live performance of the latin-tinged 'Convectuoso'. The latter (which itself contains the lyric "We are okay in a disabled veteran way," far from de-politicised) descends into a frothing but coherent State of the Nation rant. Daryl Palumbo, further and further incensed, bellowing, "No one fucking cares to understand: Who is the meat and who is the butcher? Who is the meat and who is the butcher? I am the butcher. I am the hunter. I am the butcher and no one cares to understand. I am the fucking butcher", is not only fewer than six-degrees of separation from Fisher's "They swapped the dogs / and the cross / for sublimated forestalling / They changed the names / of the boss / Until you forgot who it was" but is emblematic of Algiers' politics — their drive to reveal and eschew the false agency instilled in citizens by their governments.

In a recent interview with the band, my colleague Luke Turner asked: "When did you last hear an American indie rock band who might be described as righteous?" And, as with most rhetorical questions, the answer itself is completely irrelevant by comparison to the phrasing of the question. The take-away is that Algiers are the new musical standard-bearers for a righteous fury that simply can't be successfully faked because it is not tied to juvenile anger or a frustration born of a misplaced sense of adolescent self-importance — a nod to the egos of Franklin James Fisher, Ryan Mahan and Lee Tesche — or reliant on memetic humour, but linked intrinsically to a time and place in the history of our civilisation that has signs of being a possible tipping point.

But Algiers isn't incitement to revolution, it's a call to self-interrogation, to consider your reality and the reality of those around you. Not to pick sides, but to ask yourself, really, whether your likely position of relative privilege as a consumer of art necessarily aligns you with the position of the meat or with butcher. How far removed are those are from one another?

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Jun 2, 2015 5:10pm

Algiers is in Louisiana

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