The Underside of Power is four-piece Atlanta based band Algiers’ follow up to their powerful self-titled post-punk meets Southern gospel debut album.
The band take their name from the city at the heart of the Algerian revolutionary war that fought and won independence from France in the 1960s. And they are back with a whole new level of fiery energy and an even more defiant political message.
They certainly do not hold back with their convictions — they are calmly explicit about their political views in every interview. Bassist Ryan Mahan stated that “this album was recorded in a political environment that collapses the late 70s economic crisis and the looming onslaught of arch-conservative neoliberalism, via Thatcher and Reagan, into the late 1930s, a world riven by fascist nationalism and white power fantasies in the US and abroad”.
Produced in Bristol by Portishead’s Adrian Utley, the album features some of the similar gospel and noise-rock influences as their 2015 debut — but this time with a more electronic feel. We hear the ominous tones of John Carpenter, the minimal dissonant synth-pop of 80s duo Suicide, but also mixed in with elements of Northern Soul and even flashes of Motown.
Altogether this is a much darker, more visceral and haunting sound, albeit with catchy twists.
What is refreshing about Algiers is that they are one of a rare breed of contemporary “rock” bands that are not afraid to present themselves as openly anti-racist and anti-establishment, while being unapologetic in their strong musical style and personal lyrics.
“When we were growing up in the South, these critiques of class and race oppression were largely and sometimes violently suppressed,” said Mahan. “It’s why we take inspiration from the Panthers or the Chicano movement, to name two.”
The opening track, “Walk Like a Panther”, starts with a famous speech by leading Black Panther Fred Hampton, who was murdered by the FBI in 1969. Hampton says, “I am a revolutionary… You’re going to have to say that I am a proletariat, I am the people. I am not the pigs. You’ve got to make a distinction.”
The title track “Underside of Power” is their most catchy on the album, with a unique juxtaposition of noise-rock beside a surprising Temptations style chorus, with lyrics “Because I’ve seen the underside of power/ It’s just a game that can’t go on/ It could break down any hour”.
The song “Cleveland” is a reference to frontman Franklin James Fisher’s hometown, where 12-year old Tamir Rice was shot dead by police in 2014. Using a sample of crying residents and families, evoking the horrors and injustices inflicted on ordinary people, Fisher cites the names of some of those who have died in in police custody, such as Keith Warren and Sandra Bland. His defiant lyrics state “we’re coming back, we’re coming back/it won’t be long”.
Though Algiers’ style may not be to everyone’s taste, this new album has taken their music to a higher level both artistically and politically.