Dynamic, ferocious, and technically hypnotic, Algiers are not a band for the faint-hearted.
The previous two records from the international quartet, Algiers (2015) and The Underside of Power (2017), showcased a group distinctively capable of marrying a range of pretty disparate textures – mechanistic techno, glorious hooks, searing post-punk, furious breaks – to create an increasingly coherent sonic identity. Their third record, There Is No Year, sees them push their extremes even further: the riffs are heavier, the grooves cheekier, the politics clearer and more righteous than ever before. It’s a bold move, but then this is a bold band, and for the most part, it pays off.
Lead single “Dispossession” gives us an interesting entry point to the record. Comparatively restrained for Algiers – not a band given to understatement – its central hook rivals the title track of The Underside of Power for the plaudit of Franklin James Fisher’s finest vocal melody. Underpinned by a languid beat from Matt Tong, it’s a mournful track, the inevitable alienation of the title coded into each bar, instrumentally as much as explicitly through Fisher’s lyrics.
Elsewhere, though, restraint isn’t really on the menu. On “We Can’t Be Found”, Fisher’s rippling, fluid vocal lines crest with an air-punching ascent into the chorus, passion bursting through every syllable. “Hour of the Furnaces” is full of addictive melodrama, giddy with gothic vigour; “Void” races along, maddeningly intense and kinetic - in a good way. Once you’ve settled into the album’s whirlwind of ideas, though, its subtleties begin to reveal themselves, and these are the details that elevate There Is No Year from a spirited record to an important one.
More often than not, it’s guitarist Lee Tesche whose playing creates the album’s finest moments. In instrumental terms at least, this is his record, just as one could argue that The Underside of Power was principally dominated by Matt Tong’s ingenious percussion. On previous albums, Tesche has played a vital but largely timbral role in the band, more frequently tracing the contours of the songs than providing their key flourishes (with honourable exceptions). Here, though, his playing is masterfully considered, whipping between Stephen O’Malley-style grunt, Annie Clark-esque intricacy and Roland S. Howard-like incision with precise grace. Each run is perfectly placed, every chord progression thick with portent; it’s thrilling stuff.
The album isn’t entirely without flaws. Algiers have always been a band who walk a treacherously thin line between earnest protest and ever-so-slightly naff histrionics, and they don’t always manage to balance upon that tightrope on There Is No Year. Its tenor does occasionally stray from galvanising to, well, a little cheesy.
Yet at the risk of damning them with faint praise, it’s somewhat refreshing to be able to level such a criticism at a contemporary rock band. Far too few of this group’s contemporaries take risks like they do, and far too few have anything of substance to say; Algiers really fucking mean every note, and their radical politics soak through each track like petrol through a rag. If they overdo it from time to time, so be it – how nice it is to hear a band giving a little too much of a fuck, rather than not enough.