Mere days ago, Lee Tesche and his band were cutting through Eastern European mountain ranges in pursuit of history. The native Atlantan recently returned to Georgia, ready to gear up for a small home state tour, but can’t shake the impact of what he and the group just saw during their six weeks abroad.
“We’re all interested in history,” Tesche says. “We took the time traveling through the Balkans to study the war on Yugoslavia and the breakup of the former Yugoslavia. We spent a lot of time going around to different monuments...in that area, they had a lot of former Soviet realist and socialist realist monuments erected in the mid-20th century. As an American you don’t really see these giant, really geometric fists in the air memorializing a coupe or different World War II events, massacres.”
These aren’t roadside attractions, either; some require a hike deep into the forest, or a climb to the top of a hill. But the members of Algiers aren’t strangers to cutting through the forest to find some glimmer of the past— as they describe themselves, “Algiers is a band of musicians born in Atlanta Georgia, the rotten hub of the Ol’ American South, where W.E.B. Dubois once saw a riot goin’ on, and where the hell and highwater swirls ‘round to the knees.”
Guitarist Tesche, vocalist Franklin James Fisher, bassist Ryan Mahan, and drummer Matt Tong (Bloc Party) are always taking in their surroundings, always absorbing and shaping their sound as a tool bearing witness to their world.
Algiers brings that urgent craft home for the first time in two years. Along with Don Giovanni Records’ Lee Bains III & The Gloryfires and Cleveland, Ohio’s Mourning [A] BLKstar, Algiers will take a rare tour of their home state, ending on the coast at The Wormhole.
(In another serendipitous, cross-country tale, the show got booked because Tesche met an “academic guy with a crust-punk past” while living in London. Despite his button-up job, the new acquaintance spent a lot of time on the road with various bands and, in the process, met Kylesa’s Laura Pleasants, who booked the Wormhole show.)
The Algiers sound is a perfect fusion of their three cities: Southern and soulful like Atlanta, icy like London’s early post-punk, and effortlessly cool and adventurous like Television-era CBGB in New York City. It’s urgent and brooding with a strong pulse and wide-open eyes.
Franklin James Fisher, Ryan Mahan, and Lee Tesche are Georgia kids raised in Gwinnett and Cobb County. They traveled to Athens to watch shows and practiced and played gigs in Atlanta warehouses.
Mahan and Tesche have been playing music together since they were young—their moms were close friends before the Algiers’ members were even born—and though they’re scattered around the world now, perhaps those early bonds allowed the group to work so well over long distances.
“It’s a bit of a challenge, but that’s how we’ve always functioned as a group,” Tesche says. “We’ve always operated on going home and working on stuff on our own, then bringing it back to the others. Sometimes it gives you the opportunity that, if someone presents you with something a bit challenging, you have time to digest it.”
Matador Records released Algiers’ second record, The Underside of Power, in June 2017. Inspired by bearing witness to current events and politics in both the U.S. and the U.K., T.S. Eliot, film, and beyond, the record is a churning amalgamation of soul, industrial grit, soul and hip-hop influences, brooding Goth/post-punk, and dark, lushly layered indie rock.
“We’re together an awful lot from touring, and in those times we’ll challenge each other and put new ideas between songs,” Tesche says of the Underside of Power writing process. “That was one thing that influenced a lot of this record—things that started out on tour as ideas that one of us would bring in, play in the middle of the set and string them together. Franklin writes 90 percent of the lyrics...I leave him a bit of space for that, he’s a really brilliant writer.”
Fisher’s engrossing lyrics and intent are emphasized with samples in some of The Underside of Power’s most riveting moments. The gate cracks open with “Walk Like a Panther,” the record’s opening track that opens with a speech by fallen Black Panther Fred Hampton.
Single “Cleveland” names Sandra Bland, Tamir Rice, and more while sampling the gospel song “Peace Be Still.”
It all seems to converge on this small home state tour. Lee Baines III & The Gloryfires, who dish out raw Southern rock ‘n’ roll that bleeds Alabama and dismantles simplistic ideas of Southern identity and culture, and electro-futurist band Mourning [A] BLKstar offer gripping live shows with unshakeable messages.
“Like Lee Baines, we come from this punk background where shows are really communal,” says Tesche. “We really do like one really inclusive, big party-type thing. We need the crowd to be energetic so we’re all in it together.”