Before we dive into the album, let’s address this pesky comparison that Algiers have been getting lately: TV On the Radio. If you have been listening to music made by black people or if you are a black person who makes music that is stubbornly uncategorizable, receiving said comparisons will be inevitable. This is a comparison that the band savagely smirked at on their track “Can the Sub-Bass Speak?” But if you will, I can be able to help explain why the egregious comparison to such a band may not be as farfetched and random as it seems.
Like TVOTR, Algiers can kick out an electrifying jam when they need to, and when it happens, you can feel the passion through your body and soul. But they are not above also singing with a tired, angry world-weariness of negro spirituals long ago. And often when they sing, it is of anything they can use to either survive or battle the inevitable decline of our nation. They also gleefully mix genres when they sing tracks of despair, love, strength and hope. The difference between Algiers and TVOTR, remains this: neither Tunde Adebimpe or Kyp Malone can spit a smooth 16 like Fisher, tho.
On “73%”, Franklin Fisher spits as if he has been waiting for a long minute to shit talk the abyss and as he does it, he makes damn sure he isn’t alone. Zack de la Rocha gets his turn to grit his teeth on “Irreversible Damage” while the notoriously anonymous billy woods and horrorcore visionary Backxwash each trade red-eyes bars with Fisher on the first single “Bite Back” wrapping up the hell felt during the space between now and the 2020 protest/coronavirus plague. Throughout Algiers’ discography, it always sounded like the band wants more than justice, but a sense of revenge. It sounded like looking for resolve and not receiving one. Shook is the first album where Fisher no longer sounds alone.
If you are one of those who enjoyed the There is No Year bonus “Void”, you will be glad to know Fisher has not lost that wild fervor, as he spits bile towards clueless Caucasian people with supposed POC friends on the cover of “A Good Man”. But amidst the sneering at the world around him, Fisher also takes time to zero into his own world and heal his heart in the process. After going through a breakup, “I Can’t Stand It!” tackles his depression after the breakup with the assistance of Future Islands’ frontman Samuel T. Herring. Where past songs tackle the desolate scene that began with an Atlanta train station announcement (“Everybody Shatter” with Southern poet Big Rube), “Momentary” is that glimpse of light ending the album with a poem/meditation on death with Lee Bains III (of Lee Bains III and the Glory Fires) at the podium.
I neglected to mention the continued genre-agnostic attitude on this record, but all that needs to be said is that the album takes genres ranging from dub to jazz to garage rock to electronica to hip hop to gospel and soul and manages to weave them all in the project without sounding any bit out of place. As a result, the album feels constructed with the ear of a musical auteur. It was created to sound less like just a disc with songs on it, and more like a soundtrack to a collection of feelings and moments at one time. It’s the sound of coming to grips with everything that has happened.
Calling Shook a record of community would feel reductive and too focused on the red herring, but if the artists didn’t also know what it is to kick against the gates of hell, and choose to help rage against it, too, there is no telling whether or not it would have worked. It’s easier to say that if you felt an energetic lull on There Is No Year, Shook will sooner put that worry to bed than it would that pesky comparison they have been receiving. – mynameisblueskye
Order “SHOOK” here: