Algiers’ ‘Shook’ Is An Era-Defining Post-Punk Masterpiece
By Nathan Leigh
February 28, 2023
Algiers set the bar impossibly high with 2020’s There Is No Year. For a band whose whole vibe is prophetic warnings, their prescient album captured the claustrophobia and urgency of the year mere months before a global pandemic was on anyone’s radar. The thing about being a prophet is that either you get proven right or proven wrong and how your material ages hinges on the answer to that question. For Algiers, each passing week since January 2020 has only made their music more essential. Rising to that challenge, Shook takes every element that made There Is No Year great and builds on it, for an album that is truly era-defining.
Leading off with the 1-2 punch of “Everybody Shatter” and “Irreversible Damage,” the album introduces itself boldly. This is an album that revels in the unexpected. Rooted in a sound that ties together the loose threads of post-punk, hip-hop, industrial, soul, and jazz, Algiers has perfected a palette that defies expectations. Songs rarely conclude in a conventional way. Algiers delights throughout Shook in letting songs collapse under their own weight rather than build to a satisfying conclusion. The effect keeps the listener on edge. There’s a sense on first listen that anything is possible that doesn’t let up with each subsequent spin.
“bite back the hand that feeds you if it’s poison”
The features throughout keep the sense of possibility blossoming in unexpected ways. Zach de la Rocha’s verse on lead single “Irreversible Damage” is an obvious highlight, but each feature seems as meticulously chosen as the synth patches and guitar effects. Vocals from billy woods and Backxwash make “Bite Back” stand out, complementing frontman Franklin James Fishers’ heartrending baritone.
Spoken interludes cut in and out. Sometimes poetry, sometimes voice messages. They contextualize and break up the music in ways that feel explosive. Sometimes violent. Sometimes revelatory. “Comment #2” serves almost as the thesis of the record contrasting and setting up the convulsive punk rock anthem “A Good Man.” The song nearly collapses under its own weight and refuses the temptation to break into the cathartic coda teased throughout. Instead it coils into itself, contorting into a wash of noise and synths. The tension ratchets throughout until Algiers drop out the bottom entirely, leaving Fisher’s voice asking an unanswered question echoing into oblivion: “am I a good man?”
As Shook reaches the back half, the band pushes their boundaries to wider extremes. The album’s centerpiece is undeniably “Green Iris.” The 6 minute track builds from whispered vocals and the sounds of rain to stunning jazz piano to propulsive industrial. The progression is so stark it’s almost hard to believe it all exists within the same song. The fact that it feels organic and natural is all the more impressive.
The album closes with the transcendent “Momentary.” The song is the closest thing in Algiers’ catalog to optimism, a song that celebrates the transience of life. For all the anger, mourning, and conflict present throughout the album, the band closes with a reminder that even through pain, unjust power dynamics, and a constant sense of pervasive dread, life is still beautiful. Algiers are exceptional at documenting the struggle, but with the closing thought of “Momentary” they remind us what’s worth struggling for.
Follow Algiers @algierstheband on socials for more.
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