ALGIERS / SILENT FORUM / NEW HAUNTS, 3RD JULY 2019, CARDIFF CLWB IFOR BACH
Outside it might be a baking hot summer's evening, but downstairs in Clwb there's a distinct chill in the air the moment Bristol-based darkwave artist Alice Sheridan fires up her synth and strikes the first thunderclap beat on her electronic drum pad. Much of New Haunts' set conveys the feeling of finding you're lost in a forest at night: disorientated, unable to see the wood for the trees and gradually overcome with a creeping sense of dread.
But then comes the sublime 'Hymns', from last year's Worlds Left Behind LP, and you're suddenly in a clearing, bathed in moonlight, able to catch your breath and get your bearings. Better still is 'Thrill', a certifiable Nine-Inch-Nails-goes-pop banger, which promises much for the new album due to drop later in the year.
Also building towards an autumn LP release are Silent Forum, who are almost unrecognisable from the band I first saw in this very room two years ago. It's not just the new uniform of loud shirts, plain trousers and brown brogues, either, or the custom-made backdrop (why have a boring banner or cliched projections when you could have a flower-festooned trellis?). It's more the focus, the sharpness and above all the songs: the swift left hook/right hook combination of 'Robot' and 'Everything Solved At Once' that floors us from the start; the subtle, nuanced Smiths-esque jangle of latest single 'Safety In Numbers'; the bold manifesto/declaration of independence that is 'How I Faked The Moon Landing'.
It's a measure of just how far they've come that 'Who's Going To Side With Me?' and 'Limbo', their strongest songs not that long ago, have been binned, relegated to the cassettes available at the merch desk. "Songs we don't play anymore on a format that no one can play", laughs Richard Wiggins, before trying to flog a yodelling tape given to him by the band's producer Charlie Francis for £50. No one's buying - but that debut album, when it finally arrives, is surely destined to shift some units.
Algiers are a unique, fearless, high-wire act, a band that revel in realising the apparently unrealisable. One song finds sharp-suited frontman Franklin James Fisher tickling the keys soulfully, Matt Tong thrashing away at his kit, Ryan Mahan contributing funk bass and Lee Tesche playing guitar with a violin bow - and yet somehow it all not only coalesces but does so to awesome effect. When 'Cry Of The Martyrs' suddenly breaks into a punk sprint, Fisher continues to sing gospel blues over the top, yet the result is far from a forced marriage. 'The Underside Of Power', a Molotov cocktail lobbed from a Motown recording studio, sees hardcore enthusiasts Mahan and Tesche pulling on their metaphorical elbow-length gloves to deliver Supremes-style backing vocals - as does techno-industrial spiritual 'Cleveland', a powerful critique of police brutality that does justice to Fisher's claim that it was intended to "sound like the Final Judgement in the Bible, wherein the wicked are judged and condemned by the righteous".
However, perhaps the most enthusiastic reception is reserved for a new song for which Fisher enlists our help, his monitor having given up the ghost. As it unfolds, shifting through the gears to an exhilarating climax, our smiles break into broad grins and their forthcoming third album becomes an even more salivatory prospect. Tong's decision to leave Bloc Party to be part of this looks significantly less questionable than his decision to sport a string vest.
"Apocalyptic" and "dystopian" are two terms regularly bandied about in connection with Algiers - but their preoccupation is not with some alternative, abstract vision of the world but with the here and now. They're the band that these troubled times demand.
(An edited version of this review appeared on the Buzz website.)