Algiers Blasts Songs of Damage and Redemption on ‘Shook’

“You should be screaming out and ringing/like the alarm that you ignore,” Franklin L. Fisher declaims in “Irreversible Damage” on “Shook,” the explosive fourth album by his band, Algiers.

Portents of apocalypse and furious resistance have coursed through the music of the Atlanta-based Algiers since its 2015 debut. So has a noisy, unfettered eclecticism that encompasses rock, R&B, hip-hop, electro, punk, jazz, gospel and blues.

On the sprawling, multilayered “Shook,” Algiers kicks its own doors open even further, using the studio to transform the band into something like a commune: welcoming outside voices and letting the music swerve at will. Franklin shares the microphone and spotlight with rappers, rockers, spoken-word performers, even an Egyptian singer, Nadah El Shazly, in the Arab-tinged electro song “Cold World.” The album’s volatile productions rarely end up anywhere near where they began.

The songs can be blunt or cryptic. They’re equally likely to sling Atlanta addresses and biblical references, and they’re dense with both musical and verbal allusions. They vent rage and dystopian expectations, but they also seek pleasure and redemption.

“Everybody Shatter,” which opens the album, harks back to the drum-machine beats and Kraftwerk synthesizer lines of Afrika Bambaataa’s 1982 single “Planet Rock,” as Fisher sing-raps about memories of “A-Town, ’81.” The song moves toward funk while he envisions the moment when “everybody breaks down and shatters,” while he also insists, “I wanna dance into the After/Until it comes to pass.”

On this album, Algiers wants it all: righteousness and humility, dignity and disgust, hurting and joy, cynicism and hope. The album’s gospelly finale, featuring spoken words from Lee Bains III — the lead singer of the Birmingham, Ala. band the Glory Fires — moves from glimpses of slavery to thoughts of resurrection: “Fear not, we rise,” Bains promises at the end.

The core Algiers band — with Fisher on nearly every instrument; Ryan Mahan primarily on synthesizers and bass; Lee Tesche on guitars and Matthew Tong on drums — uses its physical and technological virtuosity almost paradoxically. Their skill summons a sense of constantly looming chaos: the feeling that anything might happen, that the music could melt down or mount a vicious ambush at any moment.

“Shook” hurtles through styles and idioms: industrial rock laced with trap drums in “Irreversible Damage” (with Zack de la Rocha from Rage Against the Machine), jagged math-rock in “73%,” pulsing electronics in “Bite Back” (with the rappers Billy Woods and Backxwash), complex jazz piano harmonies in “Green Iris,” and raw punk wandering into electro-pop in “A Good Man,” a song that’s deeply skeptical of punk-era machismo. In “I Can’t Stand It,” a mix of jittery programmed drums and echoes of retro soul matches the fractured but heartbroken lyrics. Algiers has calibrated every bit of warmth, drive and irritation.

“Something Wrong?” may be the album’s most direct song. It’s about a brutal traffic stop, the kind of police encounter that has left unarmed people dead. It starts with brisk drums and bass and a cruising rhythm, but then a siren arrives. The song warps and slows down — like tape manipulation, like digital processing, like memories of a life-changing moment — with echoey reggae guitars and looming siren tones. The pitched-down singer asks, “Did I do something wrong?” adding, “I was just going home/Yeah, it’s my final year.” Then the track speeds up with frantic punk guitars: “Get out of the car, son/Boy, don’t fight back.” There’s no conclusion; the tension lingers.

Throughout the album, Algiers lashes out at injustice, exults in its sonic mastery and insists on the life forces of solidarity and physical impact. But it refuses to promise any consolation.


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