Last February, Algiers released one of the most extraordinary tracks of 2019. Can Sub_Bass speak? It was a five-minute collage of free jazz, drums and spiritual saxes from the southern United States championships, on which Franklin Fisher recounted the insults and misconceptions he received as an African-American frontman of this non-categorizable group, ranging from: “You remind me of Lenny Kravitz” a, “Fuck your experience … don’t come from the hood.”
Sitting in a London cafe with his bandmate, bassist Ryan Mahan, Fisher explains that he wrote it “so that I would no longer have to discuss my race with the white media. They don’t understand what you’re doing as a black person in a context that isn’t – very reductively – black. “
The politicized lyricism of Algiers and the abrasive songs, in industrial tones, shaped by the musical heritage of their home in Atlanta, Georgia, have been misunderstood by the white public. “This is not an R&B group, you are not rapping, we don’t know what it is,” he repeats mockingly in the song. At least on a personal level, can Sub_Bass speak? they did what they needed. “It was like an exorcism or a purge of anger that I no longer carry around,” says Fisher.
True to Fisher’s word, the topic is off topic, leaving room to discuss No year. Algiers’ third album is an elegant 2017 evolution of The Underside of Power. That record was a tough examination of what Mahan describes as racism and the “homogeneous and repressive nature of society” that he, Fisher and guitarist Lee Tesche encountered growing up in Atlanta. Drummer Matt Tong, formerly of the Bloc Party, joined 2015.
Mahan says they have come together to break the idea that “America is somehow exceptional.” For Mahan, the only exceptional thing about it is “his violence and approaching the encounter with the Greek and Roman empires in a complete spiral and collapse. It was: this makes us feel fucking alienated, how can we deal with it? That’s where the band comes from. “
The new album was recorded after Algiers finished a world tour in support of Depeche Mode, playing one night stadiums and small clubs in the cities of Eastern Europe that most bands do not deign to visit next. “Being in a band is like being a shark; keep moving or die, “says Fisher with an ironic smile.
The experience illustrates how music has changed since Depeche Mode was able to climb the global charts with music that is not so different from the gothic and politicized power of Algiers. You can feel the influence of Depeche on their new Chaka track, which mixes drum machines, guitar shredders and hot synths. However, while Depeche Mode has sold millions, Algiers continues to struggle commercially. “I listen to a lot of new music and not adapting sonically gives me a feeling of dislocation,” says Mahan. “It has been difficult.”
However, as Fisher says, their contrast between discord and melody simply reflects what they see around them. “The political situation is complex, so the ways of talking about it must be complex because otherwise it’s anachronistic and it doesn’t work for me,” he says. It’s what makes his band different from ancestors like Manic Street Preachers, whose music has always been shaped by a simpler rock aesthetic and more orthodox politics.
Fisher’s lyrics on There Is No Year were drawn from a sprawling poem, an impressionistic exploration of both the American condition and the band’s personal life, which “seemed to always be close to the spiral out of control,” he says. “Something had to become more existential”. He called the poem Misophonia, after a psychological condition of hating certain sounds, which he suffered for a long time.
“As a child I had a nervous breakdown because I thought the world would end,” he says. “I had a religious education and I imagined Satan as the harp tuner, or the seventh trumpet was the most horrible supernatural sound you could imagine, all fucking dying.”
This is not to say that Algiers are nihilistic. The melody often wins in their thorny cocktail, so while a track like Dispossession may have lyrics about America on fire, it comes with a killer chorus and a weak swing.
“There is a broader theme of sound that has been revisited throughout the disc,” says Fisher. “I sound like something that is redeeming, threatening and relaxing and everything in between.” Their conversation is punctuated by dry humor, and although they are eloquent when it comes to discussing the bizarre and often terrifying state of the world in 2020, they are leveled with their heads.
“If you’re confident without pessimism, it’s pretty naive,” says Mahan, “and if you’re just pessimistic, it’s fucking cynical.”
No year is released on January 17 on Matador