The Underside of Power is the second studio album by the American experimental rock band Algiers. It was recorded in 2016 and released on June 23, 2017, through the Matador Records label. Algiers is known for blending various genres, including post-punk, gospel, industrial, and electronic elements, to create a unique and politically charged sound you didn't know you needed.
Music writer David Klein described Algiers as "recalling at various points PIL's dub-style expansions, Afrobeat, industrial, no wave, free jazz, Suicide, the XTC of 'Travels in Nihilon,' Nick Cave's fire and brimstone, and musique concrète." Basically, this a band worth hearing, just to see how it all works out (and for many people, it certainly does).
Key Points about The Underside of Power: Musical style, lyrics and themes
The Underside of Power continues Algiers' exploration of a diverse range of musical styles. The band incorporates elements of punk, soul, gospel, and electronic music, resulting in a sound that is often described as intense and emotionally charged. The album's lyrics are highly political and deal with themes of social justice, race, power, and oppression.
Algiers is known for its thought-provoking and socially conscious lyrics, and this album is no exception. For example, on their even newer album, Shook, the song “Irreversible Damage” declares: “You should be screaming out and ringing/like the alarm that you ignore...” Here, on this earlier album in question, songs like the title track "The Underside of Power" and "Cleveland" also address issues of racial inequality and political resistance to oppression (and why wouldn't they?).
The album received widespread critical acclaim upon its release. Critics praised its bold and genre-blurring approach, as well as its lyrical content and powerful message. It was seen as a politically relevant and timely release, given the social and political climate at the time.
Tracklist and influences
The Underside of Power includes songs like "Walk Like a Panther," "Cry of the Martyrs," "Death March," and "Mme Rieux" (with lyrics inspired by Camus' novel, "The Plague"). Though the title track, "The Underside of Power," and other songs have a few wilder moments, "Mme Rieux" feature more sparse, soft, piano-driven instrumentation.
Regarding the various influences one might detect on the album, MIC suggested that Algiers' unique sound draws inspiration from a wide range of musical acts with rebellious histories, including punk pioneers like The Clash, industrial, as well as gospel and soul music. The New York Times commented that their self-titled debut album "marries the ambient doom of those post-crash days and more recent unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, and Baltimore with a full-throated critique of the systems responsible." This blend of influences, and their ability to make it work and not sound gimmicky or forced, sets them apart from many contemporary rock bands.
Algiers is composed of Franklin James Fisher (vocals/guitar/piano/cello/percussion/sampling/synthesizers), Ryan Mahan (bass/guitar/synthesizers/piano/percussion/backing vocals), Lee Tesche (guitar/percussion/backing vocals/saxophone/synthesizers), and Matt Tong (drums/percussion).
Background and further praise
The Underside of Power is a politically charged and musically adventurous album that showcases Algiers' ability to fuse different genres into a compelling and thought-provoking sonic experience. It was recorded in New York and various locations, suggesting a band that was regularly on the move. Also, as a bit of band trivia, drummer Matt Tong joined the band for this album.
The album earned "universal acclaim" on Metacritic and AllMusic gave the album 4 out of 5 stars (personally, I would have been tempted to give it the full 5). I'd describe it as an experiment in sound that succeeds powerfully and carries many intricate layers.