Algiers – Shook
Post Punk | Experimental
I still maintain that Algiers’ eponymous debut is one of the most criminally slept-on albums of the 2010s. That first listen is such a revelatory experience; discovering a carefully crafted sound completely their own, hearing a band breaking new ground when so many are quick to say there’s no new ground to break. I’d never heard anything like it before, and 8 years later I’ve still not found another act able to tick all the boxes that they do. Not only does the political charged lyricism seem especially prescient given the years of upheaval and pronounced injustice that followed in its wake, but musically it still feels ahead of its time. It’s one of those albums that you’ll listen to in years to come and it won’t have aged a day. With everything from post punk and krautrock, to soul and traditional gospel, different styles all bouncing around at high velocity and fusing together on impact, there’s just so much going on. It’s a sound the band have tried to further expand upon and refine over subsequent releases, with varying degrees of success, but with this latest effort it feels like the bubble has burst, hammering home the idea that you can have too much of a good thing.
While 2020’s There Is No Year offered a more stripped-back, streamlined and accessible iteration of Algiers, Shook pivots wildly in the complete opposite direction. Even by their experimental firebrand standards, this is a pretty wild and eccentric release, one that can end up feeling pretty hard to digest. Cramming spoken word passages, jazz fusion, and hip hop influences into their already busy and eclectic sonic palette, it keeps you guessing at every turn. A lot of its experiments fall flat, disparate elements mixing like oil and water, with flimsy new ideas obscuring a solid foundation beneath. However, when it works, it really works.
Opening track ‘Everybody Shatter’ interpolating Prince, and kicking off the record in fine form with its glorious funk bass line. The bass doing a lot of heavy lifting in ‘73%’ too, with the track’s madcap frenetic jazz rhythm section recalling old school Mars Volta. ‘Irreversible Damage’ burbles along with some of the band’s best electronic work, before closing with a fuzzy Eastern tinged drone solo that hums and buzzes with all the manage of a cloud of angry hornets, while ‘Something Wrong’ represents the album’s most overt and striking display of the band’s socially conscious lyricism as it tackles police brutality and deep set racism. Shook‘s longest cut ‘Green Iris’ is carried by its haunting quality, helped in no small part by the smoky jazz piano tones and a stunning vocal turn from frontman Franklin James Fisher, while album highlight ‘A Good Man’ is a rollicking no-nonsense punk powerhouse.
While there are flashes of brilliance here, Algiers often feel like strangers on their own album. Shook is packed to the brim with guest appearances (most of them performing spoken word or contributing guest rap verses) which in a way ends up reminding me of The National’s I Am Easy To Find. Both records are a case of too many cooks spoiling the broth; the band’s own voice been drowned out by too many guests, and the album being pulled in so many different directions that it loses all cohesion and purpose. Between the many different abstruse spoken word passages and needless fleeting interludes, all sense of momentum is lost and the album comes across as very stop-start, as well as feeling needlessly padded out with filler. I’m here for Algiers, and the guest artists can neither match their fire nor deliver their message with the same force and clarity.
I feel like there are as many parts to the album that I’m merely enduring, as I am actively enjoying. Shook is by far the band’s most scattershot release. A blunderbuss blast of a record. When it hits, it rips and tears with real power and ferocity. But sadly a lot of what’s on offer here flies wide of the mark.