When it dropped in 2015, Algiers’ self-titled debut album created such a stir because it saw the Atlanta-born and now internationally based band fusing a blend of familiar musical influences in a way that was both unexpected and simultaneously begging to happen. Indeed, it’s hard to think of any obvious peers to Algiers’ fusion of dark industrial / post-punk and soul / Southern gospel vocals, save perhaps The Veils. Two years on, this highly anticipated second album sees ex-Bloc Party drummer Matt Tong now fully integrated into the band’s lineup – while the band’s debut arrived before they’d even played a live gig, ‘The Underside Of Power’ arrives on the heels of more than 200 shows as a four piece.
It’s a development that’s had a noticeable effect on the band’s sound, with the 12 tracks here sounding fuller and more informed by live performance than the more stripped back directions often being explored on their debut. As the title suggests, it’s an album that’s thematically informed by the almost simultaneous developments of Trump’s election and Brexit that accompanied its recording, and while Algiers’ lyrics have always been directed towards oppressive / corrupt power structures, it’s often not hard to work out who the respective targets are here.
In many senses opening track ‘Walk Like A Panther’ is one of the moments that’s most similar to their preceding album, as vast reverberating synth stabs and spidery trap rhythms slide against frontman Franklin James Fisher’s spectacular belting vocal delivery, his distorted soul roar calling to mind an outraged Gospel revivalist preacher as a massive horn section suddenly steps forward amidst what sound like cut-up Black Panther samples. If it’s a suitably jolting opening salvo, ‘Cry Of The Martyrs’ showcases the band’s more recent evolution into a fully integrated live outfit, as a propulsive motorik rhythm that carries hints of both krautrock and Joy Division gets gradually enclosed by layers of chugging rnb guitar riffs, faded orchestration trailing into focus as the entire track accelerates into a streamlined rush around Fisher’s soaring multi-tracked harmonies.
Dystopian gospel seems an apt description of the sort of mood that Fisher captures here, and while there’s a sense of rapturousness in his delivery, there’s little in the way of hope in his lyrics. ‘A Murmur, A Sign’ drops the temperature down, sending cold bass synths and glittering melodic flourishes gliding airlessly against a massed choir of Fisher’s layered vocal harmonies and sparse jagged guitar chords, before the clattering, hiphop-edged Cleveland sees him offering up a rollcall of black victims of police violence over the preceding few years in America. While not quite as sonically bracing as their self-titled debut, this is an impressive second album from Algiers that sees them successfully capturing their expanded live energy.