Where have all the political musicians gone? Try these 10 albums
By Mat Ward
At the end of last month, The Guardian again asked: "Where have all the political musicians gone?" But Green Left Weekly covers hundreds. Here's this month's round-up, which 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. MOBY - THESE SYSTEMS ARE FAILING
At the start of the month, former federal climate advisor Ross Garnaut hit back at Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull for wrongly blaming South Australia's power outage on the state's renewable energy "ideology" while his government doles out billions of dollars to fossil fuel companies. Days later, vegan activist and chart-topping US pop star Moby released his "most political album" These Systems Are Failing, reasoning that as you can't make money from albums these days, there's no point diluting your message. Its release came days after rapper Azealia Banks vowed to stop mixing music with politics. Echoing Moby's themes of animal rights and climate change was Australia's DD Dumbo on his new album, written in a shed in the Victorian mining town of Castlemaine. As Australian activists promoted wave energy and slammed nuclear power, the quirky indie artist said he planned to record his next album entirely using solar power. MORE>>>
2. WORMROT - VOICES
On October 12, Turnbull hailed a new deal with the world's highest-paid political leader, Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, to let Singapore's soldiers train in Australia, all while the pair pushed the hated Trans-Pacific Partnership to the world. The deal came days after feted Singaporean grindcore band Wormrot - whose members met after they did their national army service - released a new album of short, sharp blasts with titles like "The 1st World Syndrome", "Compassion Is Dead" and "Fake Moral Machine". Days later, South-east Asian inequality rose its head again as the "world's longest-serving monarch", Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej - died. His death threw a spotlight on that country's long history of resistance and protest music, including rising star Rasmee Waynara, who is reviving Isaan, the folk music of the the working-class north. Meanwhile, Australian band The Patient called for a truly pacific partnership with their anti-war album Unite As One. LISTEN>>>
3. SHOVELS & ROPE - LITTLE SEEDS
At the start of the month in Australia, two Aboriginal men were shot by police within the space of a week. On October 17, the president of the largest police management organisation in the US issued a formal apology for the mistreatment of minorities, which was criticised for promising no action. The same day, it was reported that Native Americans are more likely to be killed by police than any other group, by percentage of population, including African Americans. A rare acknowledgement of their plight came 10 days earlier with the release of the new album by US country act Shovels & Rope. Its song "BWYR" says: "Too many dying, too many dead. Black lives, white lives, yellow lives, red. Let's all come together and bow our heads." Shovels & Rope are among several leftist bands bucking the stereotype of the US south, including the Dexateens and Civilian, whose new political album You Wouldn't Believe What Privilege Costs came out on October 21. MORE>>>
4. JENNY HVAL - BLOOD BITCH
A man immersed in costly privilege, US presidential hopeful Donald Trump, started paying the price when a recording of him was released on October 7. On it, he boasted how, as a "star" he could "do anything" to women, even "grab 'em by the pussy". The recording was instantly sampled by hip-hop producer Mike Dean, who turned it into anti-Trump ghetto house track "GRAB EM BY DA PUSSY". One publication complained that female musicians were staying silent about Trump. But just days later, Russian performance art-punks Pussy Riot released "an answer to Trump" with the track "Straight Outta Vagina". Weeks earlier, Oslo's Jenny Hval had released her new album, Blood Bitch, whose title refers to "the purest and most powerful, yet most trivial, and most terrifying blood: menstruation". Trump, whose apparent aversion to menstruating women is well documented and inspired one artist to paint his portrait in her menstrual blood, probably wouldn't be a fan. LISTEN>>>
5. SKINNY GIRL DIET - HEAVY FLOW
Also bringing menstruation to the fore are London feminist punks Skinny Girl Diet, whose new album's artwork puts the subject front and centre. On "Pretty Song", they sing: "Women in the world are bleeding. I'm not going to write a pretty song." Courtney Love fans seeking music to fill the void left by her band Hole will definitely find it more fulfilling than, say, any band supporting Hillary Clinton, who seems less like a feminist and more like "a robot built by Goldman Sachs". The corporate hijacking of politicians is also addressed by Nigeria's Seun Kuti, whose new album-length EP contains the song "Gimme Me My Vote Back". He could just as easily be addressing the US election when he sings: "I give them my vote and them abuse it, new government, new excuses. You promise to give me peace and you give me war. You promise me justice and only jail the poor. You promise jobs and you close the factories. But there's always work in the penitentiary." MORE>>>
6. THE POP GROUP - HONEYMOON ON MARS
Clinton, with her hawkish history, is a safe bet for the military industrial complex. Not so much Trump, who supposedly wants to scale back US warmongering. The big business of war is shot down in "War Inc" on the new album by revered Bristol experimentalists The Pop Group, released on October 28. Blending a vocal refrain of "this is a warning" from 1994 Bristol jungle record "Warning" into the words "War Inc", it hollers: "See the arms dealers, laughing like hyaenas, all the way to the next merchant bank." Honeymoon On Mars is packed with the pensive politics of towering frontman Mark Stewart, this time with Public Enemy producer Hank Shocklee on board. Described as "a hypersonic journey into a dystopian future full of alien encounters", the album was released days after Tesla and SpaceX chief Elon Musk outlined his plans to colonise Mars as an "escape hatch" for Earth-destroying humans. MORE>>>
7. KATE TEMPEST - LET THEM EAT CHAOS
Also addressing earth-destroying humans is British poet Kate Tempest, whose new book and album is a call to "mend the broken home of our own planet while we still have time". As revered in literary circles as she is in the music world, Tempest was more qualified than most musicians to comment on Bob Dylan's Nobel Prize for Literature awarded on October 13. Whereas some used it as an opportunity to blast the Nobel's history as an arms manufacturer and Dylan's history of supporting Israel, Tempest was full of praise. The poet, who hit headlines when she called out Australian racism at a literary festival this year, also references Indigenous genocide on the album, which delves even deeper, lyrically and musically, than her previous efforts. It would be ideal to reprint all the lyrics here, but "Europe Is Lost" offers a tantalising snippet: "The water level's rising! The water level's rising! The animals, the elephants, the polar bears are dying! Stop crying, start buying." MORE>>>
8. THE NATION BLUE - BLACK / BLUE
Tempest's album artwork depicts an exploding oil refinery and it was such life-threatening concerns that sparked a victorious strike action by the Australian Workers Union at a Geelong refinery this month. Just days later, four customers were killed at Dreamworld amusement park on the Gold Coast after the same union says it had been warning for months about safety concerns there. Two days later, Dreamworld's CEO was awarded an $860,000 bonus, which she refused to discuss with media as it was "not really the time" to do so. Meanwhile, Turnbull pressed on with his government's union-destroying policies. He has, after all, been returned to power after the Sydney Morning Herald told readers to vote for him as an antidote to "reform-resistant" unions. The rage felt by many is articulated by Melbourne's political punk stalwarts The Nation Blue, whose new double album opens with the screaming, unvarnished acapella "I Have No Representatives". Its title says it all. LISTEN>>>
9. RAVANA - THE CURSE OF MAYA
Similar disillusionment with politicians is found on the new album by prolific Delhi producer Ravana, which asserts "we don't have leaders, only misleaders". Promoted as his "first full-blown drum and bass album", it was released as his country's neoliberal leaders continued their aggression towards India's neighbours, but musicians called for their peers to stay silent. Also releasing a political album this month was the daughter of legendary Indian sitar player Ravi Shankar and sister of Anoushkar Shankar, who also released her own political album this year. The chart-topping Norah Jones was last heard on her album of duets with outspoken artist Billy Joe Armstrong, whose own chart-topping band Green Day put out another political album on October 7. On the same day, Green Day's fellow political pop punk veterans NOFX also released a new album, whose track "Generation Z" lays into the bleak future faced by today's youth. LISTEN>>>
10. ANTI-PASTI - RISE UP
At the end of the month, French authorities moved in with sledgehammers to destroy the Jungle refugee camp at Calais. The move came after British pop star Lily Allen took a hammering online at the start of the month for filming an apology to refugees on behalf of her country while visiting the camp. It also came days after the release of the new, exceptionally strong album by British punk diehards Anti-Pasti, which opens with the words: "Welcome to more government lies, there's women working for a minimum wage and humans in Calais living in a cage. Rise up! Rise up!" Across the pond, wannabe deporter-in-chief Trump began blaming his possible election loss on the polls being rigged. Barack Obama said there was "no evidence" of US election rigging and the media echoed him, yet on October 18, investigative reporter Greg Palast released his new film based on documentary evidence of election rigging. The problem is, he says, it's Trump's party doing the rigging. 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. Read it online here.
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