The Underside of Power by Algiers (2017)

While only a fool would think that our problems began with Brexit and Trump, it did take those two events to shake large numbers of people out of the slumber they’d allowed themselves to drift off into during the largely overrated Obama years. Atlanta, Georgia via London outfit Algiers on the other hand were part of the resistance before the recent right-wing resurgence shocked large numbers back into action. After coming together at the end of the 2000’s, Algiers issued their first single in 2012 before working towards the release of their critically acclaimed self-titled debut album in 2015.

Despite being among the most anticipated albums of 2017, The Underside of Power sees Algiers shaking off any notion of difficult second album syndrome with a record that’s not only more focused but also finds them upping their songwriting game. At the same time they retain the smorgasbord of influences found on their debut (post punk, industrial, blues, gospel, soul and more), while also smoothing them over with the soul and electronics turned up a few notches.

Aided by a team a studio collaborators that includes production by Adrian Utley of Portishead and mixing by Sunn O))) producer Randall Dunn, The Underside of Power also features former Bloc Party drummer Matt Tong who joins the band officially after hooking up with them for their 2015 tour. Expanding on the themes of their debut, its follow-up examines political disenfranchisement and systems of oppression in the context of recent events, while also looking back into the history of the last century for the root causes of today’s problems (neoliberalism, nationalism, racism etc.).

Opener ‘Walk Like a Panther’ kicks the album off with a sample of assassinated Black Panther Fred Hampton leading into vocalist Franklin James Fisher screaming passionately over a trap-style beat: “We won’t be led to slaughter / This is self-genocide”. Then, the one-two punch of ‘Cry of the Martyrs’ and ‘The Underside of Power’ really gets the album moving, the former a blend of industrial and Motown influences with pulsing electronics and handclaps, the latter being one of the year’s finest pop moments with its Northern Soul-inspired style featuring a Sam Cooke-echoing chorus: “One day a change is gonna come / Because I’ve seen the underside of power / It’s just a game that can’t go on”.

Second single ‘Cleveland’ sounds even better within the context of the album, containing a warning about civil war in America over a breakbeat and a gospel sample. Elsewhere, the gothic ‘Death March’ has a Depeche Mode-meets-The Cure feel to it as Fisher sings about a “crypto-fascist contagion” contaminating political discourse. The influences of Suicide and John Carpenter intermingle on ‘A Murmur, A Sign’, one of the album’s darkest moments alongside ambient drone instrumental ‘Bury Me Standing’. There’s also a blast of punk thrown in there on the venomous ‘Animals’. However, two of the album’s finest moments come in the form of a couple of dark piano-led ballads, the Albert Camus-inspired ‘Mme Rieux’ and psychedelia-influenced ‘Hymn for an Average Man’.

Changes in the political climate have certainly brought about an increase in albums with a political angle over the past twelve months, with the likes of ANOHNI, Solange and Common among the most notable releases. However, there are unlikely to be many that are as relevant and as well crafted as ‘The Underside of Power’.

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