Review Summary: A political review.
America is in a much darker place than when Algiers released their debut. While their self-titled work was far more ominous, almost foreshadowing the coming struggles, The Underside of Power
dives headfirst into the danger and anger of a country divided. Since Trump began his campaign for the presidency, the nation has grown more and more divided, something that has not slowed down since his election. Tensions continue to rise on nearly every issue from race relations to environmentalism. It’s hard to not be afraid of the thought of the country tearing apart at the seams as the middleground continues to disappear completely. But while many fear it, Algiers eagerly await collapse.
“Walk Like a Panther” immediately bludgeons the listener over the head as an abrasive anti-anthem. As Franklin James Fisher caterwauls over blistering guitars and glitchy beats, the track features a fusion of rock, soul, gospel, hip-hop, and countless other influences, blending them into a momentously powerful call for uprising against the Man. While this opener is inarguably the standout track, the album doesn’t get any less engaging from here, if only less thrilling.
The following two tracks are also highlights, “Cry of the Martyrs” continuing the bleak frustration with oppressive guitars and a vengeful-sounding choir, while the title track allows us to let off a little steam with a surprisingly upbeat look at revolution, sounding almost like a party at the start of the apocalypse. The rest of the record drips with limitless reverb and distortion, creating an atmosphere just as unique as the amazing mix of genres displayed on every track. It’s near-impossible and completely futile to try to pin down the “genre” of this release, but from song to song specific influences can be pinned down, like the soulful title track and the near-piano ballad “Mme Rieux.” It all adds to the otherworldly quality of the release, which makes it both more and less terrifying. More because of how alien and disjointed the album is, and less because this surreality makes it perhaps too easy for the audience to cast it to the side as overdramatic and unhinged from the reality we all live in. Does it impact the music negatively? No. If anything, it improves it. But it could be argued that the call to action might be damaged, if that was their true intent at all.
If the album has any real fault, it’s the repetition of similar sounds as it goes on. Disappointingly, “The Cycle/The Spiral” is one of these tracks, closing out the album in a near-monotonous fashion, far worse than the album deserves. While the song is good in its own right, its unexciting compared to the originality and daring nature of the tracks before it. A couple songs in the middle of the album ,such as “A Murmur. A Sign.,” are just as lovely as their surrounding brethren, but tend to get lost in their hazy atmospheres before being able to reach out and really do anything thrilling.
These problems are easy to forgive and even forget when looking at the release as a whole. As a piece of art there were far more moving and dynamic works last year, but none made as effective and exciting a statement as this. It’s purely leftist outlook is sure to be irksome to others, but no matter what side you take, the deft and daring musicianship must be obvious. And even if it doesn’t end up predicting a terrible possibility for America, it will forever serve as a snapshot of a country divided for future generations to behold.