Album Review: Algiers – SHOOK

[Matador; 2023]

Exhausted, on the verge of breaking up, and strapped for ideas, Algiers returned home for their fourth album and ended up using Atlanta as conduit: from Jim Crow to the Child Murders to Black Lives Matter or Ma Rainey to Little Richard to Migos. The Union Army leveled the city during the Civil War, unleashing sprawl that is unmatched – though Shook tries.  

At times, Algiers and Atlanta so densely pack Shook that it’s impossible to distinguish sounds and voices or effects from causes. It’s like a double album edited down to 55 minutes by shrinking the font size to avoid trimming any content.

Even the concise album title is under siege: it derives from the poem that local author Big Rube has written for the opening track, where he laments the onslaught of opinions and events that cloud mental focus and distract from seeing truths.

Shook is an onslaught.

Big Rube hardly finishes his call to “active compassion” before Algiers singer Franklin J. Fisher demands that you ring “like the alarm that you ignore.” Spartan hip-hop beats, razoring punk guitars, and a collage of features, samples, and sound effects come and go with impunity. “Something Wrong” is its own dub and chopped-n-screwed remix. The Mary Lou Williams-influenced “Green Iris” tries to string a thread from Victor Hugo to the cotton fields, but does so glowering and academic.

It could certainly be that Algiers are merely replicating relentless, societal noise, where contradictions thrive. Regardless, the careening patchwork often sounds like the band loses track. One interlude criticizes the characterization of minorities as a people overcome by a joyless suffering, yet among the few things missing from Shook are levity and humor – never mind joy.

Shook’s most seductive passage arrives with the beat that detaches itself during billy woods’ verse in “Bite Back”. An odd, improvisational meter allows woods to curl it like smoke, but it then gathers like a storm when Fisher enters with his own, Luda-via-Kendrick-style flow. It’s one of the scarce occurrences where an idea moves from a to b to c instead of mnbvcxzkjhg.

“Cold World” repeats the trick, slowing down to a “Put Your Hands Where My Eyes Can See” beat so that the lyrical play from “the world is indifferent” to “the world isn’t different” can be perceived; next, a rock beat creates a false sense of momentum before disappearing under a weightless verse in Arabic by Nadah El Shazly. Here – and in Shook’s best moments – Algiers are unpredictable yet methodical, driving with eyes closed and reacting to the wheel’s vibrations instead of making it shake.