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Shook Luke Turner , February 24th, 2023 10:12

At nearly an hour in length, the latest from the Atlanta quartet is an epic release that pulls no punches, finds Luke Turner

For all the talk that we now exist in a post-genre age, it’s often felt as if artists who do the unexpected with their bashing together of disparate forms continue to struggle commercially. Despite releasing three musically and politically potent, deeply original albums, Algiers’ exploration of various strands of industrial, post punk and body music with their heritage in the Black south of the USA has never really fitted in with anything going on in the musical world around them. Their touring schedule, still in modest venues, has always looked punishing, not least because the physical energy they pour into performance often feels like a dissolving of the individual members selves into the collective whole. It’s perhaps not surprising then to learn that their fourth album Shook comes from a band that was wiped out and starting to fall apart. It’s also not at all surprising that it sounds nothing like that at all.

Algiers music has always dealt with a sense of precarity against the power of American absolutism, both historical and contemporary. If much contemporary music seems to approach this political anxiety and the troubled self with a message of empowerment that ultimately feels both adjacent to self-help woo-woo and the self-interest at the heart of the system that it’s trying to critique, Algiers have always dealt in communion – this is in part what makes their live sets so potent. Here, they sound not like a band at the end of their tether or making a last spin of the dice, but one utterly revitalised, and now only reaching their peak, through a record loaded with collaborations that are never perfunctory or box-ticking exercise, but joyous and celebratory. 

What makes Shook so exciting a listen is the group’s ability to do all this while still making a record that is definably Algiers – few artists get to carve out such a distinctive sonic territory in such short a time as them. Their fellow travellers on this record never feel like interlopers, but enhance what Algiers have always been so good at, and take it to new places. Given that guests include anyone from Zack De La Rocha of Rage Against The Machine (on the thundering ‘Irreversible Damage’, which sounds like a hip-hop influenced PiL riding in on a thwacking great Chinook helicopter), Samuel T Herring of Future Islands, musician and theorist De Forrest Brown JR, Egyptian artist Nadah El Shazly and many more, this is no mean feat. 

This collective of musical and political energy simply seems to have a whole lot of fun seeing what is possible within the Algiers sonic framework. ‘Everybody Shatter’ (featuring veteran Atlanta rapper Big Rube) is whip-sharp industrial funk, while ‘A Good Man’, for instance, which starts like a thrashy nephew of The Damned’s ‘New Rose’ before it falls apart under a migraine drone and sparkling synth melody. ‘I Can’t Stand It!’ begins with modernist soul, brings in grand and even slightly histrionic chorus, vocals from Samuel T Herring of Future Islands, doomy synths, then strings, and finally breaks down into digital noise with spoken word from Jae Matthews of Boy Harsher. All that in just under three-and-a-half minutes. Strewth! I’m not sure there are many groups that could make that work, and that also goes for ‘Bite Back’, a fusion of slowed down EBM, rap and a big old rock chorus.

Just as good are the more stripped-back moments, especially the first half of ‘Green Iris’, a rich eddy of choral voices, saxophone, tambourine, claps creating an air of reverence before menacing electronics turn up, as if your local church organist had just been given a drum machine after a couple of bonus gulps at the communion chalice. Shorter moments, including eloquent voice notes on race and identity, or short tracks like ‘Cleanse Your Guilt Here’’s succinct Madlib murmur and Big Rube’s spoken word over a backing haze of goth hums and reflective choral voices on ‘As It Resounds’, are made more direct by their thoughtful brevity. Throughout, Franklin James Fisher is on typically fantastic form and it’s his vocals, along with the spidery guitar, the focus of the beats and sax skronks that weld the album together so powerfully. There’s so much going on here, musically, intellectually, politically, that Shook is a record to spark thoughts, offer up new truths and provoke for the rest of 2023 and beyond. 

Some might feel that at 55 minutes and 17 tracks and with so much going on, Shook is perhaps a little long. Yet to these ears it never feels bloated and it’s hard to see what might be pruned without losing some of the record’s impact. And after all, why should Algiers compromise for the attention deficit era? They refuse to on anything else, and one gets the impression this even goes for their own wellbeing in the hard work and sacrifices made for their cause. Shook is a record that exudes zeal, sweat and effort – heart, mind and body music of the highest order.