I've been writing about music on the Internet for 15 years or so, just me sitting here shouting into the void, yelling about the music that interests me. I have been doing this for so long that i have finally started to believe that i can actually write a coherent review. Your mileage may vary on that, of course, but the other thing that has changed over the years is that i have found that less and less stuff just blows me away.
Perhaps my memory is dimming with time, but it seems that back in the early years of EvilSponge i heard many records that moved me deeply, records that touched me, that made my mind resonate with possibilities. And then, for a while, that sort of thing stopped. I know that for the past half dozen year-end lists i have started off by saying how disappointed i was in the overall crop of new music from that year.
Part of me was worried that the problem was with me and not the state of the Atlanta music scene or the worldwide music industry. Perhaps i had just become so numb, so beaten down by the mundanity of everyday life that nothing could affect me that way again.
But there were a few rumblings, things that came close: Boys & Girls by Alabama Shakes, the most recent Spirits and the Melchizedek Children release, Balmorhea. Each of those acts (and a few others) did really cool things that provided me much enjoyment, but there was something still missing, that indescribable part of music that reaches down and shakes the inner you, the one you keep inside, hiding behind all of the masks that you present to the world. Truly great music reaches past the barriers that each of us put up to protect ourselves. It reaches past the barriers and tells you it'll be okay.
I was beginning to wonder if having that feeling (technically the term for that is duende -- look it up!) was just a matter of age. Perhaps my Barriers of Self have become so calcified with the weight of time that no new music could get past them. And maybe, just maybe, Morrissey wasn't a master poet. Maybe those Smiths records affected me because i was at the right age to be affected... That is kind of a depressing thought, since the lure of duende is like an addiction -- you just want more and more and more...
But then, a few months back i clicked a link in a blog and watched the video for Blood by Algiers and all of the excitement and passion rushed back into the world. This song by this band affected me like i had not been affected in a long time. The song soared with depths of passion and hidden layers in a soulful voice with trebly post-punk guitar and a bone-shaking industrial beat.
And i felt it again. That voice reaching from outside, sliding past all of the barriers i have constructed between myself and the world, and it hit me, right in the very heart of my being. It gave me a huge rush, that buzz that only comes from truly great music when you first hear it. Watching that video was like seeing Wire live, like watching Superchunk play Slack Motherfuckerlive, like hearing Victorialand that first time on the gritty floor of a dorm room, like April Skies pouring out of a scratchy public school record player... The sound grabbed me at the core of my being and screamed "IT'S NOT ALL JUST A JOKE! REALLY!!!!"
And so i did what one does in the second decade of the 21st century -- i posted a link to the video on Facebook and gushed about it a bit, just to see if what happened to me was real, if other people reacted the same way. In the Social Media Era, nothing is real unless someone else confirms / witnesses / shares / likes.
And people did.
The band held their album release show at The EARL and i went, dragging along Tracers and Brillo and Inspector Jason. And it was good. Very good.
And i bought the record and took it home and put it on the turntable and played it LOUD, the dense sound reverbing off the walls of my condo, scaring my cats and annoying my neighbors. But i didn't care. This was something REAL, the first real thing i have heard in far too long. And i reveled in it, just bathing in the realness of the music and the sheer unrestrained dark beauty of it.
The record kicks off with a dark drone and a stomped and clapped beat slow, eerie. Voices chant, and then Franklin James Fisher comes in, his voice slowly building until the song explodes with intense vocals, just belting it out as synths chime. Remains is an angry and dark start to a record, and the stomped beat, noisy guitar, and synths all remind me a little of Cabaret Voltaire, but Fisher has a richer voice than Stephen Mallinder.
Claudette brings in a little soul music to the industrial noise as Fisher wails over a sampled chorus, a hesitant beat, and a funky bass riff. And When You Fall has the same hesitant rhythm, but there is more chorus here, adding vocal density and chaos in the background. Guitars grind and drums tap while Fisher wails, and bassist Ryan Mahan throws down a steady riff that ties it all together. I love the bass in this one.
The fourth track is Blood, which was the first single that Algiers released years ago. It is a hell of a thing, just such a great song. But don't just listen to me: go and watch it here.
Guitarist Lee Tesche turns in a great performance in Old Girl, his guitar wailing over a sample of some old soul singing, scratchy and in the distance. The drumming here is intense, just a powerful fast beat that drives the song along.
Irony. Utility. Pretext. is the most industrial tune here, and that is saying something. An old drum machine chugs and synth hits chime out over distorted guitar and echoed voice. It builds to an intense rage, Fisher screaming while the music swells up around him, that drum machine keeping an angry beat... This really takes me back to the 1980s, and i love it.
The drum machine is flatter and steadier in But She Was Not Flying, while the voice sounds angrier, if that is possible. There is a nice piano bit on the verses, yelling in the background as the guitar dissolves in feedback, but on the chorus the keys sound like a flat odd plinking.
Black Eunuch starts with a sound like a revival, everyone clapping and chanting along, then Fisher comes in yelling "She said please keep your smile away" and the song is off. This is the most reggae tune here, Tesche's guitar a trebly jangle under the handclapping, and echoed and droning on the instrumental breaks. The song is fast though, the hands clapping rapidly, the guitar jangle tearing by.
Games is slow and soulful, Fisher wailing about Bibles over a synthesized choral ooohing. This tune reminds me of the more soulful elements of Elvis Costello. Well, in tone at least, since Fisher's voice is far more powerful, and he is basically bellowing. There is also an element of Donald Byrd's Christo Redentor here: taking a lovely spiritual sounding song and adding a bitter and mournful anger to it.
Tesche throws down another great riff on In Parallax, playing lightly over handclapping. And finally the record comes to a close with Untitled, which is just a sample of some old soul record played over a faint drone. It sounds so simple and sparse, and yet i think it ends the record just right, as if these old sounds that were buried (under the trebly distorted guitar, the synths, the drum machine, and Fisher's angry vocals) just reasserted their authority.
Everytime this record ends i sit in awed silence for a minute. The best album i have heard in years, maybe decades. I am impressed with the way that Algiers mix post-punk and industrial darkness with the deep sorrow of soul music and end up with something angry and alive.