If you don't hear these 10 new political albums, you're missing out
By Mat Ward
1. COMBAT WOMBAT - JUST ACROSS THE BORDER
On April 6, The Sydney Morning Herald endorsed Donald Trump's illegal bombing of Syria as "heartfelt and entirely understandable". The Guardian echoed that media-wide consensus, hailing it as "morally right". For a different perspective, you could check out US rapper Marcel Cartier's embedded reporting from the area this month for TeleSur. You could listen to the protest songs of Country For Syria, a collaboration between US country artists and Syrian folk musicians. Or you could buy the long-awaited new album from Melbourne-based raptivists Combat Wombat, which was released just five days before the bombing. Just Across The Border, their first album in 12 years, bristles with a verbal artillery against Western warmongering. Not everyone's a fan: Aboriginal hip-hop pioneer Munkimuk says he changed his name so as not to be mistaken for their producer Monkey Marc. But the sheer strength of their music shows why they have such a strong following among Australian activists. LISTEN>>>
2. BOYSETSFIRE - 2OTH ANNIVERSARY LIVE IN BERLIN
Aboriginal hip-hop heavyweight Briggs slammed white Australian hip-hop in an interview with the Kiwi media published this month. In it, the rapper contrasted it with New Zealand rap, which makes no attempt to separate the music from its Black roots. But other things across the ditch offer no contrast, as union struggles this month in both countries showed. Such struggles are the same worldwide, as illustrated by "Management Versus Labor", one of the many fan favourites on the epic new six-LP box set from US hardcore band Boysetsfire. Recorded live in Berlin, it captures all the raw power and raucous banter of their shows. April 8 also brought a solidarity-building show from British ambient artist Sam Kidel, who samples call centre workers to illustrate the mind-numbing mundanity and crushing indignity of such work. For the gig, he teamed up with academic Jamie Woodcock to talk about his book, Working the Phones: Control and Resistance in Call Centres. MORE>>>
3. NANA GRIZOL - URSA MINOR
Such dire work can be seen as a luxury, as the residents of Raymondville, USA, know only too well. This month, the unemployment-ravaged town was salivating over the job prospects from its jail reopening to house Trump's refugees. Days earlier, US indie rockers Nana Grizol threw the spotlight on their local immigration detention facility on their new album. On the song "Tacoma Center 1600", they sing: "It is a euphemistic package for apartheid, a billion dollars earned in someone else's blood. Hundred and twenty five dollars a head, hundred and twenty five dollars a bed. And one weekend we gathered outside of the gates and we read off the name of the dead." Blues artist Eric Bibb also reminded Americans of their immigrant roots on his new album, Migration Blues. "Whether you're looking at a former sharecropper, hitchhiking from Clarksdale to Chicago in 1923, or an orphan from Aleppo, in a boat full of refugees in 2016 — it's migration blues," he said. LISTEN>>>
4. JOEY BADA$$ - ALL AMERIKKKAN BADA$$
Struggling to find an upside to Trump's presidency, rapper Joey Bada$$ said it would at least spark more uplifting rap music like his new album, released on April 7. "The music has taken a shift now," said the emcee, who is being sued for US$1.5 million by a Trump impersonator he shoved off stage. "I’m not the only artist who feels this way. Everyone is starting to feel somewhat responsible because we’re realising the power that we have as individuals, as musicians, as people with high influence." Fellow rapper Kendrick Lamar, whose last album was hailed as a political masterpiece, was looking slightly less optimistic than Joey Bada$$ on his new album, DAMN. Days later, as the media drooled over new details from the death of musician and activist Prince, a member of Prince's band released his own new album. Seeking to break the stereotype of what Black music should sound like, André Cymone's 1969 melds Civil Rights politics with a mainstream rock soundtrack. MORE>>>
5. SOMI - PETITE AFRIQUE
Also bolstering Black America is the new album from jazz artist Somi, which is dedicated to the residents being forced out of the French-speaking Petite Afrique, or Little Africa, in Trump's New York. "I made this album during the election campaign, but I didn't realise how timely it would be," Somi said. "For talking about the dignity of immigrants to suddenly be a political act is unsettling." The album was released days before socialist French presidential hopeful Jean-Luc Melenchon, who had just proposed that French Guiana and the French West Indies should join an anti-imperialist alliance, was knocked out of the race after another terrorist attack in Paris. Left in the race were the right-wing Emmanuel Macron, who has apologised for France's colonial crimes, and the racist Marine Le Pen, who makes no such apologies. Petite Afrique joins a chorus of new political albums from jazz artists, including Christian Scott Atunde Adjuah, Miles Mosley and Harriet Tubman. MORE>>>
6. VARIOUS ARTISTS - AFRORAZONES
On April 19, workers went on strike in French Guiana, one of the French colonies that Melenchon says should join the anti-imperialist Bolivarian Alliance for the People's of Our America, founded by Venezuela and Cuba. A week later, Afrorazones, a multi-artist hip-hop and R'n'B album celebrating "Black resistance" in Cuba, was released. "We present the project at a time when Black people globally are thinking through questions of diaspora and belonging," said the album's producers. It came as Venezuela’s government was coming under increased pressure, but there was some hope in the region. The election of Ecuador's new left-wing president was celebrated by WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange as it meant he wouldn't be evicted from the country's London embassy. Days earlier, Western Sydney hardcore band Northlane had released a surprise album paying tribute to US whistleblower Edward Snowden, whose asylum in Russia was helped by WikiLeaks. MORE>>>
7. M LOCKWOOD PORTER - HOW TO DREAM AGAIN
Amid new moves to charge Assange in the US, Bruce Springsteen released an anti-Trump protest track with his old friend and collaborator Joe Grushecky. It followed hot on the heels of the new album from M Lockwood Porter, who soups up his Springsteen-style rustbelt rock with radical politics. On "Joe Hill's Dream" he sings: "You said not to mourn when they shot you, Joe Hill. But what bullets can't kill, fear and hopelessness will. You put the voice of the people in the point of your pen. Can a dream that has died be revived once again?" On April 28, roots rocker John Mellencamp released his new album Sad Clowns and Hillbillies, which closes with the words: "So, Black lives matter, who we trying to kid? Here's an easy target, don't matter, never did. Crosses burning, such a long time ago. 400 years and we still don't let it go." It came a week after even country pop star Sheryl Crow bemoaned the state of the nation as she released her new album. LISTEN>>>
8. GORILLAZ - HUMANZ
Trump's election was predicted by acid-dropping "prophet of doom" Father John Misty, who wrote his eccentric new album Pure Comedy on the theme before the vote took place. Likewise, Damon Albarn wrote the "super political" new album for his fictional cartoon band Gorillaz around the "dark fantasy" of Trump being elected. On the album, released on April 28, Vince Staples raps: "I'm just playing, baby, this the land of the free. Where you can get a Glock and a gram for the cheap. Where you can live your dreams long as you don't look like me. Be a puppet on a string, hanging from a fucking tree." The same day, Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore - who recently put out a tribute to US whistleblower Chelsea Manning - released his new album, Rock 'n' Roll Consciousness, saying: "Take this record, put it on your boombox and just blast it at the Trump Tower." More upbeat were soulsters Flyjack, who heralded a revival of Civil Rights-era activism with their new album, It's A New Day. MORE>>>
9. TIMBER TIMBRE - SINCERELY, FUTURE POLLUTION
Pipeline-loving Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau thrives on his image as the antithesis of Trump, yet it was tarnished this month by a viral article titled: "Stop swooning over Justin Trudeau. The man is a disaster for the planet." The article, written by environmentalist Bill McKibben, came as Canadian alternative rockers Timber Timbre put out their apt new album, Sincerely, Future Pollution. "When we were recording, the premonition was that the events we saw unfolding were an elaborate hoax," said frontman Taylor Kirk. "But the mockery made of our power system spawned a lot of dark, dystopic thoughts and ideas." Not that Australians could be smug. In the same article, McKibben also laid into Australia's plans for the largest coal mine on earth, just days after Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull made a trip to India where he tried to sell the country coal, despite the fact it does not want any and is trying to export the same shite. LISTEN>>>
10. BAD//DREEMS - GUTFUL
On April 25, Australia marked its invasion of Turkey with its annual Anzac Day commemorations. The day, described by Aboriginal satirists as a giant white death cult, brought the usual controversies. Record-breaking DJ Joe Mehkael broke the minute's silence at Sydney's dawn service with a "stop the war" chant, for which he was arrested, charged and put on a terrorist watch list. His protest came after Australia's foreign minister taunted North Korea for investing in weapons rather than its own people (hey, no hypocrisy to see here), following its nuclear threat to a US-loving Australia. It also came four days after the new album from Adelaide "pub rockers" Bad//Dreems, which lays into such nationalism with the words: "Had a gutful of speed and coke. Had a gutful of your racist jokes. Had a gutful of Australia Day. Had a gutful of the USA." At the end of the month, hardcore band Toe To Toe called for Sydneysiders to Rise Up on their new album, which features the song: "My War, My Way." MORE>>>
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Mat Ward is an Australian-based journalist who has been writing for Green Left Weekly since 2009. He also makes political music and wrote the book Real Talk: Aboriginal Rappers Talk About Their Music And Country.
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