REVIEW: Algiers – Shook

Before I listened to Shook, I thought I knew who Algiers were. Not as individuals, but who they were in terms of their musical identity. After listening to Shook I am confident I never before would have recommended them to fans of Young Fathers and Run the Jewels. What was I listening to before? Was I confused? Was it even the same band? These questions will not be answered in this review – neither do you or should you care, and it simply isn’t the place. Indeed the only thing I do remember about Algiers after listening to their last, forgettable, album There Is No Year, was the fact that Bloc Party’s original drummer Matt Tong, was now in Algiers (maybe it’s a coincidence that I hear Bloc Party in ‘A Good Man’).

So who are Algiers?

Before attempting to answer that, there’s lots to unpack here – it’s a dense album, in a good way. 54 minutes, 17 tracks, a load of guests and a host of important sounding spoken word interludes ranging from poetry to micro-lectures that remind me to pay attention to the lyrics and delve into what this album is about. But with me famously being a lyrics hater, let’s face it, this is unlikely to happen in the few words I have available to me here. So back to trying to answer the question.

Shook begins with memorable intent, designed precisely to prove my musical memory wrong. ‘Everybody Shatter’ with the Big Rube vocal chorus, before the machine gun beats of ‘Irreversible Damage’, with the briefest of cameos from Rage Against the Machine chief shouty man Zac de la Rocha, is truly something. Big Rube appears several times, with real vocal gravitas. You hear him and immediately feel like something important is about to happen. This is true even of ‘As It Resounds’ where he gives a dramatic introduction to a song that never really starts.

In contrast to this, the longer tracks like ‘Bite Back’ and ‘Green Iris’ allow the space for the songs to build and develop, to real benefit. By the time you reach ‘Green Iris’ with its jazzy hint of sax, adding jazz to the already very long list of musical styles covered on Shook, seems pretty pointless. This leads me to another question, this time on genre. Is post hip-hop a thing? I mean it almost definitely is. Shook may or may not be it. But to me it seems the most apt way to sum up this album. Simply calling it hip-hop would be hugely reductive. It’s beyond genre. It just is Algiers. And this is as close as I’ll get to answering some of the questions I set out at the start of this review.

But despite early catchiness, it’s not all hits. And despite their wide range of influences, not every sound they make is pleasing. There is a noisy side to the album with a totally different impact. This side is less successful for me. ‘73%’ verges on this, yet embodies the urgent and energetic spirit of the album at the same time, leaving me a little torn. After late album highlight, ‘Cold World’, with more guest vocals and more genre-busting, Shook loses its way towards the end. With the length of the album it could have done with a diet to lose some unnecessary flab.

So I’ll ask one more time, who are Algiers? I don’t have a definitive answer. What I do know is that coming from a position of indifference towards them, the more I listen to Shook, the more I warm to it. It’s far from perfect, but there’s plenty for me to suggest you let yourself warm to too. 2023 has got off to a slow start, but other than the things I already knew I’d like, this has been the most ear-catching release for me so far this year. I won’t be forgetting Shook.

Words by James Spearing

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