With every day in 2020 so far somehow politically worse than the last, it’s easy to lose faith that a revolution—or even the smallest positive change—might actually happen in America. The Democrats are poised to nominate a centrist candidate over the race’s furthest-left candidate, Bernie Sanders, who actually has the numbers behind him to suggest that he might actually be able to win this year’s presidential election. “I’m into him as much as I can be behind any political figure,” Franklin James Fisher, lead singer of the anti-capitalist, anti-fascist band Algiers, said of the candidate in 2016.
Much like Sanders, Algiers are back in 2020. As on 2015’s self-titled debut and its 2017 follow-up, The Underside of Power, the Atlanta band’s latest effort, There Is No Year, is meant to inspire a revolutionary energy, both politically and musically, in the listener. Unfortunately, it sounds like they’ve lost a bit of their spark we need it the most. Though many of the trademarks of Algiers’ sound—spoken word chants, plunking keys, gospel harmonies, post-punk inflected breaks—recur on There Is No Year, they’re often mixed lower than repetitious and grating synthesizer lines. The result is an album that often buries Algiers’ proven penchant for radical political songwriting under some of synthwave’s worst impulses.
The album’s opener, its title track, does not set a particularly strong stage, beginning with a dark, pulsing synth beat that’s quickly modified by electronic handclaps and crescendoing strings. Meant to inspire a cinematic and revolutionary energy akin to one of Jordan Peele’s great horror films, “There Is No Year” instead sounds like a Phil Collins-penned soundtrack for a scrapped Blade Runner sequel. The same can also be said of “Hour of the Furnaces” or “Chaka,” the latter of which at least has a heavily processed saxophone solo that pushes the song in an interesting no wave direction. The band certainly still has grooves, particularly in Ryan Mahan’s bass playing, but it’s frustrating to see their unique sound muted under synths that just don’t mesh well in the mix.
Initially written as an epic poem, lyricist and multi-instrumentalist Franklin James Fisher croons and chants in murky gothic metaphors. There are repeated references to “the sound,” an ominous and threatening representation of revolution that Fisher seems to have lost faith in: “Everything starts to fade / Under the weight of silence,” he sings on “Nothing Bloomed.” The album also pulls from Christian visions of the apocalypse, be it through the invocation of the four horsemen (“There Is No Year”) or a crisis of faith that portends the failure of the revolution (“Wait for the Sound”). Fisher’s lyrics are at their best when at their most self-evident, as on “Repeating Night,” which addresses the immobility of American politics: “This is the breaking point, again.”
When There Is No Year abandons the synthwave influences and embraces Fisher’s clear admiration for Foucault and other critical theorists, it’s easy to remember Algiers’ unique appeal. “Losing Is Ours” is a plunking spiritual slowburn that confronts neoliberal denial, while “Unoccupied” is a jittery groove for the crowd too busy reading postcolonial theory to get to the Parquet Courts gig. The album closes with “Void,” a Bay Area punk ripper that inspires more energy than anything else on the record. Existing outside There Is No Year’s narrative—and without a synth in sight—the track provides a salve for an otherwise underwhelming effort. “And it’s coming around / It’s opportunity,” Fisher sings in the album’s final moments. Hopefully something comes of it.