Algiers turns inward with the more personal ‘There Is No Year’

The shape-shifting band will perform at Rumba Cafe on Friday

Andy Downing
Columbus Alive

For the first couple of weeks after the pandemic hit, Algiers singer Franklin James Fisher was distraught. But within short order, the musician started to get his bearings, embracing the newfound free time created by the concert freeze as an opportunity to recharge and focus on the act of creating — something for which the band’s usually hectic touring schedule previously left little time.

“Slowly I realized that we would have access to things like unemployment,” said Fisher, who was visiting Atlanta when the pandemic hit and ended up spending a majority of 2020 living with his sister there before returning to New York City. “Having your own space and time and money and food — all of these things that you don’t always have the same access to when you’re touring — it keeps you grounded, and then you’re able to do other things like write.”

For each Algiers album, Fisher has adopted a different approach toward his lyrics, with the process playing a large part in shaping the themes for each respective album. On The Underside of Power, from 2017, Fisher wrote a handful of the songs in a rush while the band was in the studio, which informed the record’s political, ripped-from-the-headline nature. In contrast, the musician kept a journal in the months and years leading up to the recording of There Is No Year, released in 2020, and those songs are far more intimate, a majority colored by the end of a romantic relationship.

More:Feature interview: Algiers at the Basement

“When we did Underside, [the band] would do things like send me to my room, literally, in the afternoon and be like, ‘Go write the lyrics to this song and then come back and be ready to sing them after dinner.’ And that was super stressful, and even though we got good results out of it, I realized I didn’t particularly enjoy working that way,” said Fisher, who will join his bandmates in concert at Rumba Cafe on Friday, Sept. 17. (Dante Foley, drummer for Cleveland-based Mourning [A] BLKstar, will sub on this round of dates for Algiers drummer Matt Tong, who is currently at home with a newborn son.)

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By keeping a journal prior to the making of There Is No Year, Fisher assured there would be no last-minute scramble, while incidentally turning his focus inward. “I think 10 of the songs on that record were about my ex-girlfriend,” he said. “We’d broken up, and I was lovelorn, where I didn’t know if I’d ever hear from her again. We kind of had this no-contact policy to respect her boundaries, so I wasn’t reaching out to her, but I figured maybe I could reach her at some point if she ever picked up the record.”

This sense of ache endures throughout the album, Fisher singing: “I’m moaning on the floor for your forgiveness”; “And I wish I could say that one day it’ll all be OK”; “Everything starts to fade under the weight of silence.”

Released just months before COVID-19 reached U.S. shores, the record’s themes have been given new weight by the pandemic, reiterating the ways that personal pain and public hell can be intrinsically linked. “I guess we’re all experiencing that, right? At least to some degree,” Fisher said.

Regardless, coming off of politically charged album The Underside of Power, Fisher said some struggled with the inward shift, referencing reviews where critics responded to his lyrics with confusion. “Their critique was, ‘What kind of call to arms is this?’” Fisher said. “And it wasn’t that at all. Aren’t I allowed to be human, too? Aren't we as a band allowed to be human? We haven’t been commissioned by any political party to make songs to wave your banner to.”

Fisher addressed the weight of expectation and more on “Can the Sub_Bass Speak,” released in August 2019, a song that covers everything from ongoing questions surrounding the band’s shapeshifting sound (“Soul-punk, soul-rock, doom-soul, what is this fusion?”) to the racist asides the singer has been subjected to during interviews with some members of the media (“Nah, you, you don’t really talk like a Black guy”). 

Moving forward, Fisher envisions the band remaining similarly difficult to typecast, including on its next album, which Algiers finished writing during COVID and will begin recording in earnest at some point after these coming tour dates.

“About six months into quarantine, I took stock of what I’d written … and gave the songs to the fellows, and fortunately everybody liked it. It feels like a return to form for us,” said Fisher, who traced his love of language to his seventh grade English class. “For me, with the initial songwriting process this time, I was just doing it for the pure joy. It was taking time to discover and letting the art reveal itself to you.”