10 new political albums everybody ought to hear
By Mat Ward
Here's this month's radical record round-up, from Pakistani pop to prisoners' punk. It actually features far more than 10 albums (count them). What album, or albums, would you suggest? Comment on Twitter or Facebook. Videos not playing? Try a bigger screen.
1. ABRAR UL HAQ - BILLO RETURNS AITHAY RAKH
This month began as May always does, with International Workers Day. It was celebrated in Pakistan with the release of pop star Abrar Ul Haq's first album in nine years, which he dedicated to the "labourers of the country in connection with May 1". Its release came just days after the anniversary of a huge sweatshop fire in Bangladesh that killed hundreds of workers, and just days before US pop star Beyonce's new clothing label was alleged to be using even cheaper labour in Sri Lanka. Campaigning against such exploitation is jailed Pakistani climate activist Baba Jan, who was running in elections from his cell this month. Abrar also used his release to remind the world that professional musicians are workers too, by launching the Anti-Piracy Movement. Days later, British indie veterans Radiohead also hit back against musicians' exploitation by withholding their new political album from Spotify - not that they found much sympathy from the corporate media. MORE>>>
2. L-FRESH THE LION - BECOME
Also punching on for the Punjab is Sydney-raised Sikh L-FRESH THE LION, whose new album released on May 13 delves into the sounds and politics of north India. On "Panjab: An Introduction" he raps: "Let me take you to the land of both my mother and my father, where life is so hard, but the people work harder. Their spirits stay high 'cause the lord is their master, but if you stand for something good then you become a target. You can't trust police because you've got to keep your guard up, because any time they can turn our people into martyrs. They shoot us down, they shoot us down, and make a statement by knocking our turbans to the ground." On the track "Hold Up", the tireless activist and musician also illustrates that life as a Sikh in Australia is hardly a bed of roses either, with re-enactments of the comments he gets at his own gigs. They range from the irritating ("Can we touch your beard?") to the offensive ("Nice bag! I hope there's no bombs in it!") MORE>>>
3. YEARNING CURVE - GUERRILLA
South Asian sweatshops also feature prominently on the artwork for the new album by Irish folk band Yearning Curve, whose singer Bairbre Flood recently made an acclaimed documentary about political music. Yearning Curve say the album's title Guerrilla refers "to actions or activities performed in an impromptu way, often without authorisation", and the work samples many Irish activists, from debt campaigner Diarmuid O'Flynn to punk poet Jinx Lennon. On May 13, fellow Irish musician Foy Vance released his new album, which kicks off with the rousing "Noam Chomsky Is A Soft Revolution". Vance says of the song: "Never has a human being spoke so softly when delivering such devastating truths as when Noam Chomsky shared his thoughts with the world. He truly is a soft revolution." Bizarrely, the album pairs anarchist Chomsky with Royalist Elton John, who produced the record. Also championing Chomsky was Indian electronic artist Ravana, with his radical new album, out May 1. MORE>>>
4. JEAN-MICHEL JARRE - ELECTRONICA 2: THE HEART OF NOISE
On the day Foy Vance's ode to Noam Chomsky was released, the renowned intellectual was quoted as saying US whistleblower Edward Snowden had been exiled for performing only the "patriotic service" of a "decent citizen". A week earlier, Snowden had appeared as the most unusual guest on the star-studded new album by French musician Jean-Michel Jarre, whose electronic music was filling stadiums years before anyone had even heard of ecstasy. Jarre says Snowden's refusal to turn a blind eye toward the NSA spying program reminded the composer of his mother France Pejot, a key figure in the French Resistance during World War II. Days earlier, fellow electronic music pioneer Brian Eno also released a politically-charged new album, The Ship, on which he tackles the Iraq war in his own inimitable way. And on May 27, up-and-coming electronica star Vester Koza released an EP that continues his anti-surveillance art. It's called OTR, short for off-the record, or encrypted, messaging. MORE>>>
5. DJ BOYFRRRIEND - LOOSE CANNON ON A DARK NIGHT
This month, DJ Magazine decided to honour electronic music pioneers with 25 of the best on its May cover. It featured not a single woman, prompting Australian broadcaster Rebecca Florence to hit back with her own formidable list of "Females Who Have Kicked Arse In Electronic Music, Too". The sexism in dance music is neatly embodied by Madison-based DJ Boyfrrriend. "I began DJing as a reaction to the world around me, and I knew very few women who were DJing," says the political science student, whose name was inspired by the feminist Riot GRRRL rock movement. “DJ Boyfrrriend is kind of a tongue-in-cheek reference to women's perceived role in the dance scene of being the 'girlfriend-of-the-DJ’ as opposed to the DJ." Also taking inspiration from Riot GRRL was the new split album from anarchist folk punks Ludlow, released on May 12, which features the scathing "Song About Patriarchy". LISTEN>>>
6. ANOHNI - HOPELESSNESS
This month, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration revealed a new threshold - the first time temperature records had been broken for 12 months in a row. A fitting time, then, for Anohni to release her new album, which features the sublimely sarcastic "4 Degrees". "I wanna burn the sky, I wanna burn the breeze," she sings. "I wanna see the animals die in the trees. Oh let's go, let's go, it's only 4 degrees." Anohni says she wrote the album, which features the similarly nihilistic "Drone Bomb Me" and surveillance-citing "Daddy", to support activists. Yet the best thing about it is that it's such high quality that the corporate media couldn't ignore it. The Guardian even called it "the most profound protest record in decades". Yet The Guardian's promotion of Tony Blair and smearing of Jeremy Corbyn supports the very status quo Anohni so eloquently rails against: a global establishment that's pushing Australia's temperature rise to more like 5 degrees. MORE>>>
7. TIN CAN DIAMONDS - TIN CAN DIAMONDS
Anohni, a trans woman formerly known as Antony Hegarty of award-winning band Antony and The Johnsons, has said she approves of Bruce Springsteen's concert cancellation in protest against North Carolina's "bathroom bill". But she equally approves of bands who instead choose to play and educate concert-goers about the bill, which demands trans people use the public toilet of their assigned sex at birth. One of those artists is Thao Nguyen of Thao and The Get Down Stay Down, who dedicated a performance of the most political song on her new album to those fighting the bill. Springsteen's gig cancellation also features in the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame's new political music exhibition, launched on May 20. Promoting it, guitarist Tom Morello declared: "All music is political, even Justin Bieber. It either supports or challenges the status quo." Tin Can Diamonds might relate to that, since they say they "accidentally" made a political album with their radical debut. MORE>>>
8. BULGARIAN PRISONERS ASSOCIATION - PUNK TO THE MAX
Tom Morello may say all music is political, but even an explicitly political song can be deemed non-political when it gives Europe a chance to bash Russia. That's what happened at the Eurovision Song Contest on May 15, when the judges relaxed their ban on political songs to allow Ukraine's anti-Russian song "1944" to not only enter, but win. The Guardian approved, calling it "European solidarity" against "Russian aggression". There was no mention of NATO's aggressive expansion eastwards, which was ratcheted up this month. Among those NATO members is Bulgaria, where former Green Left Weekly activist Jock Palfreeman remains jailed, yet still active. On May 1, his Bulgarian Prisoners Rights Association released its fundraising album Punk To The Max, featuring an impressive line-up. It joins other strong political compilations out this month, including those for the anti-fascist 0161 and Alerta Alerta festivals, released days before the Sydney Morning Herald smeared anti-fascists in Australia. LISTEN>>>
9. PROVOCALZ - C.O.D.E.: CHILDREN OF DA EPIDEMIC
Always drawing a strong anti-fascist crowd is Gamilaraay rapper Provocalz, whose new album came out on May 7. The next day, comic Tim Minchin - who recently made headlines for challenging Cardinal George Pell over the Catholic child abuse affair - won a Logie for his role in colonisation tale The Secret River. He used his speech to stress that such stories are better told by Aboriginal people. Provocalz's album embodies that. The ever-topical emcee not only guns down Australian racist shock jock Alan Jones, who has been accused of "hardly appropriate" behaviour towards schoolboys. He also takes aim at US hip-hop legend Afrika Bambaataa, who had resigned from his global organisation the Universal Zulu Nation amid allegations of child abuse just a day before the album's release. At the end of the month, Narungga rapper Caper also put out another meticulously-produced EP, telling fellow Indigenous people: "Don't let anybody bring you down. Brush the dirt off and dance around." LISTEN>>>
10. VARIOUS ARTISTS - FREE WEST PAPUA: RIZE OF THE MORNING STAR
Provocalz has long been a staunch supporter of West Papua, but few Western politicians are. Which makes it all the more unusual that British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn called for the Indonesian-occupied nation's independence on May 3. His support came just weeks after the release of award-winning music documentary Punks 4 West Papua, as well as the reggae-infused fundraising album Free West Papua: Rize Of The Morning Star, whose title refers to the national flag West Papuans are banned from flying. Over in Corbyn's Britain on May 7, another Morning Star fundraiser was released in the shape of Don't Be Left Without Us, a 34-track compilation for the socialist newspaper Morning Star. The month also brought a slew of political thrash, death metal and hardcore albums from Discharge, Broken Teeth HC, White Lung, Node and Weekend Nachos. MORE>>>
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Mat Ward is an Australian-based journalist who has been writing for Green Left Weekly since 2009. He also wrote the book Real Talk: Aboriginal Rappers Talk About Their Music And Country. To read it online, click here.
To read about more political albums, click here.
To stream Green Left TV's political music playlist, click here.
3CR radio's Global Intifada show is a great source of topical political music. To listen to it online, click here.