Shook, the latest release from Algiers, sports super-group levels of collaborators to produce a body of work whose influences range from trap to alt-rap, to punk, to spirituals and soul (stated influences include DJ Premier, DJ Screw and Dead Boys to Lukah, Griselda and Dïa) and results in an expansive depiction of growing up in the urban south and Franklin James Fisher and Ryan Mahan’s hometown of Atlanta, GA.
Tracks like Cleanse Your Guilt Here nod to Danger Mouses’s Grey Album (2004), an iconic effort to break down the racial division between rap and rock which posed a powerful critique of the validity of those distinctions and offered an experience of blackness that transcended those constraints. The Grey Album, however, is now almost 20 years old. Now “genre-bending” artists and projects are seeing a lot of mainstream success – think of artists like indie press darling Bartees Strange – and crossing these increasingly ambiguous musical borders isn’t really all that provocative anymore. More needs to be done with that transgression and Shook doesn’t always hit the mark.
Delicious discordancies and weirdnesses resolve a little too quickly, erupt into soulful triumph too soon. Different elements are wheeled out at breakneck speed, leaving no single idea truly developed, which could be the product of a too-many-cooks situation on an album that boasts around 12 guest collaborators.
Bite Back exemplifies this issue. The opening beat is sick – light, nimble, fierce, really leaning into that southern trap sound and develops an unsettling buzz which is electrifying, but ultimately leading to a hook that negates the discord and feels dated.
But this saturation of influences works on other tracks like Green Iris. With a lovely and lush intro of whispers and low choral voices against piano, it is spiritually moving. Irregularity and complexity here is informed by a jazz tradition. Saxophone and more voices enter, go crazy in a car crash of sounds, then give birth to the booming groove that closes down the track. Green Iris is all over the place but in a way that feels creative and is undeniably engaging. An honourable mention too for Nadah El Shazly – her contribution to Cold World is definitely an album highlight.
On Shook, poetry pervades. When it works, it really works, like on As It Resounds where Big Rube’s performance is poignant and incisive. Poem Momentary offers, among other things, a view of southern identity that counters reductivity, leans into the melting pot potential at the heart of the American identity and, situates that message in a deeply felt sense of nostalgia and place. Vignettes like Comment #2, All You See Is don’t offer much musically and feel a bit like filler on an album that numbers a whomping 17 tracks. Again it forces one to ask – is this experimental or does it just lack focus? Jury’s still out on this one, but it’s 100% worth a listen.