algiers ‘there is no year’ is a goddamn masterpiece
By Nathan Leigh
January 17, 2020
“This is the breaking point, again.”
The ritual of putting together end-of-year lists is something I both love and dread. I love making lists, but I hate the nagging feeling that there’s something I forgot. Inevitably there’s something that came out in the first few months that slips through the cracks; in practice, most Best Of roundups are actually just the best records that came out in the second half of the year. Nevertheless it’s a credit to Algiers’ continued audacity as a band that I feel pretty confident in saying that There Is No Year might the best album of 2020, two weeks into the year.
With lyrics reportedly pulled entirely from an epic poem titled “Misophonia” that bandleader Franklin James Fisher wrote during a particularly dark period, there’s a thematic through-line that ties the whole record together. There Is No Year is very much more an album more than it is a collection of songs. Nevertheless, the individual songs stand as many of the best Algiers has released to date. The title track explodes out the gate with an urgency and drive; “Now it’s two minutes and they’re building houses of cards/ It will spiral out until the day we all fall.”
The band eviscerated their perception on the middle finger of a non-album single “Can the Sub_Bass Speak?” this summer. The frustration, sonic inventiveness, and incisiveness that pours out of the speakers on that single calcify into pure magic here. The musical heart of Algiers has always been Fisher’s union of gospel, soul, punk, indie, industrial, and hip-hop, but There Is No Year is the first album under the Algiers banner where the band feels like it’s truly functioning as a single unit that’s more than the sum of its components. The addition of the great Matt Tongs on drums (ex-Bloc Party) is a particularly welcome addition. “Dispossession” is a plaintive plea for freedom from oppression as much as it’s a vow to do whatever’s necessary to achieve it. Digital handclaps abound, cheering on the revolution. On both “Hour of the Furnaces” and “Chaka” the band seems to have let their stint opening for Depeche Mode rub off on them in the best way, taking the haunting atmospheres and whirling synths to their Nth degree in service of some true music for the masses, so to speak.
There’s an undercurrent of hopelessness throughout Fisher’s lyrics, and the best tracks find him fighting against it “No matter what, the doubt’s been set loose in my mind,” he sings on the standout “Occupied.” Fisher’s voice has always lived in the space where desperation turns to action, his voice cracking alternately like a preacher, a carnival barker, or a revolutionary leader. He draws no lines between heartbreak over relationships or social oppression. The personal is political and vice versa. “We Can’t Be Found” is a shotgun of hurt, lashing out in every direction. When the stunning chorus erupts, it’s almost alarmingly uplifting, as if it knows the major chords are a lie. When the band closes out with “Void,” it’s a shock to the system. Wails of noise and fury replace the ghostly chords and dense synth textures that flesh out so much of the album beneath wails of “Got to find a way to get out of it.”
Every album by Algiers is a new reason to cite them as one of the defining bands of the last few years, but There Is No Year is one you’re going to want to make space for. This is not the sort of record you put on in the background. It’s the kind of sonic feast that sustains for weeks, if not months. We’ll be playing and processing this one out for a while.
Keep up with Algiers on Facebook and catch them on tour this winter.
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