Think there's no good political music these days? Try these 11 albums
By Mat Ward
Here's this month's radical record round-up, with an emphasis on police brutality worldwide. It actually features far more than 11 albums (count them). What album, or albums, would you suggest? Comment on Twitter or Facebook.
1. PROVOCALZ - ONLY BUILT FOR KOORI LINX
This month began with yet another Aboriginal death in custody. To make matters even worse, the victim, Shaun Coolwell, was still mourning the death of his brother, who also died in custody four years ago. On October 16, Gamilaaray rapper Provocalz hit back with his new 30-track cop-taunting album featuring no fewer than 22 Indigenous emcees. They include Lady Lash and Tera, who both released albums of their own this month. Provocalz's album also pays tribute to Aboriginal warrior Pemulwuy, who "burned down that police station at Parramatta". Also paying tribute to Pemulwuy was the new album from Russell Morris, which came out a week later. Red Dirt - Red Heart, released five decades after Morris first topped the Australian charts, completes his triptych of Australiana albums with a focus on the Australian interior. "Any history of Australia albeit, very brief, has to include the people who have inhabited this wonderful country for at least 40,000 years," Morris says. MORE>>>
2. VARIOUS ARTISTS - WE SHALL OVERCOME
In a similar Herculean community effort to Provocalz, English protest singer Joe Solo managed to pull off "the biggest festival of music and politics the world has ever seen" at the start of this month. We Shall Overcome, promoted with a free 47-track album, encompassed 250 gigs in 123 towns and cities across eight countries on three continents, raising "£125,000 [$269,500] worth of cash, food, clothing and blankets for those at the sharp end of austerity". Rob Bywater sums up that austerity on the album with his track "Break": "Remortgage your house for a small bowl of coffee, in a shopping centre cafe. All over England our hearts give out sighs, as our England slips slowly away. If it isn't broke we'll still fix it, then we'll fix it some more till it breaks. And we'll usually find it won't go back together again." The festival, however, is getting back together again. "Next year we come back bigger, bolder and better," says Solo. MORE>>>
3. JOE SOLO - NEVER BE DEFEATED
As if pulling off "the biggest festival of music and politics the world has ever seen" wasn't enough for Joe Solo this month, he also released his own concept album about Britain's 1984-85 miners' strike. In the song "Standing By My Man", Solo and singer Rebekah Findlay rail against Margaret Thatcher: "She'll rip the heart from this country. There's nothing more to this town, than bricks in the middle of nowhere and a pit that she's closing down. There's nothing much in that bank book, but I'll stretch it as far as I can. I'll show her who's the 'Iron Lady': I'm standing by my man." A fortnight later, dumped Australian PM Tony Abbott was speaking at a London dinner for the late Thatcher, where he was being hailed as an "iconic conservative leader" and the food was being touted as from the same caterers used at her funeral. Dead old lady's sandwiches? Ewwwww! Let's hope Abbott took along some lovely fresh onions to crunch on after he trotted out his hare-brained drivel. MORE>>>
4. JARED PAUL - GET MY GHOST
Thatcher's dinner could have been worse, the caterers could have been London's Cereal Killer cafe, whose hipster owners were still smarting at the start of this month after their cereal-only eatery sparked a riot. The protesters, led by Class War anarchists, were railing against gentrification - and a cafe charging £4.40 ($9.44) for a bowl of cereal seemed like an ideal target. US rapper Jared Paul, who has a lengthy arrest sheet for protesting, would relate to that. On his new album, the activist rails against the similar gentrification of his neighbourhood. On "$8 Smoothie" he spits: "I need somethin' fresh, I want something fruity. I need somethin' healthy, I want something juicy. But I'll kiss a riot cop's boot live on Fox News, before I ever let you punk me for an $8 smoothie! They just raise up the price, it's what's polite in the scheme, to completely and discreetly gentrify the East Side. Welcome mat swinging like a trap door: Invisible border, ever present class war." MORE>>>
5. DARKSTAR - FOAM ISLAND
To illustrate the socioeconomic split between over-gentrified London and England's under-resourced north, electronic producers Darkstar recorded interviews with youths in the town of Huddersfield, West Yorkshire. On their new album, the samples are layered innovatively over an ambient soundscape, building up artful rhythms of their own as they lay down their bitter truths. "Cuts" samples a promotion for Kirklees Council, in which the northern-accented narrator struggles to sound upbeat as she says: "Like all councils round here, we'll soon have much less money to run local services, so we need to do things differently. Making the council more efficient has already saved us £83 million. We've cut senior managers and reduced staff while maintaining services and we've reduced our borrowing costs. But we still have £69 million more to save. This is the same amount as what we spend on looking after older people and vulnerable adults, so the cuts are hitting us hard." MORE>>>
6. BOYSETSFIRE - tomorrow come today, LIVE AT LIDO, BERLIN
The universality of what's happening in Huddersfield is illustrated by the latest album by US hardcore band Boysetsfire. The live promo, given away with this month's edition of German magazine Visions, opens with "Eviction article", which seethes: "If you love this country, take it back from those who will destroy it. Protest is patriotism." And on "Management vs Labor", they bark: "Struggle by to feed your kids, while theirs grow fat, privileged and disdained. They've bled you dry until all that's left of you is sold to build their paradise." Guitarist Josh Latshaw knows all about being bled dry, having broken his neck, two vertebrae and collapsed his lung in his construction job, leaving him vomiting blood. The release is timely in Australia. Here, membership of unions - one of the few safeguards against construction accidents - hit a record low this month, followed by a record low in wage growth, as industrial battles raged on at Bluescope Steel and Hutchison Ports. MORE>>>
7. UNWOMAN - SOMETIMES RADICAL
Californian punks Hard Left come out swinging for collective power on their new album, whose song "Red Flag" hollers "Organise the general strike!" in a voice that sounds like it's gargling sandpaper. On "Safety" they opine: "Flag pin, dollars and a smart salute, hand on your heart while they grab the loot. Don't start shit, don’t even move. Comrade, you’ve got something to prove." Brandishing a flag pin of a different sort is classically-trained anarchist Unwoman, whose new collection of political songs, Sometimes Radical, comes with a black flag lapel pin. She puts it this way: "Are you an anarchist pundit about to appear on cable news? Want to display your anti-nationalism subtly while wearing formal attire at a state dinner? This is the perfect accessory." It's also the perfect emblem for Unwoman's atypical anarchist music, which sneaks surreptitiously into the chamber-pop genre instead of treading the well-worn path of punk. MORE>>>
8. BLAK RAPP M.A.D.U.S.A. - STEEL WATERS RUN DEEP
"Sometimes radical" is also a phrase the Western media should keep in mind rather than tarring all Muslims with the same terrorist brush. Instead, the usual Islamophobia was invoked at the start of the month when schoolboy Farhad Khalil Mohammad Jabar shot dead police accountant Curtis Cheng in Sydney. In contrast with the restraint shown over a white sword attack at the end of the month, the media went berserk. The result was anti-Muslim protests nationwide (and counter-memes asserting that some Reclaim Australia members needed to reclaim their teeth). A few days later, Muslim artist Safdar Ahmed was named as a Walkley Awards finalist for his work, giving him a platform to promote his death metal band Hazeen, which parodies Islamophobia. This month, revolutionary rapper Blak Rapp M.A.D.U.S.A. also showed not all radical Muslims are violent, with her latest release, Steel Waters Run Deep. The acronym in her name stands for Making A Difference Using Skills and Activism. MORE>>>
9. TAV FALCO - COMMAND PERFORMANCE
On October 13, Australia cited the threat of Islamic terrorism to start doing officially what it has been doing unofficially for years - collecting people's metadata. The move brought a warning from National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden, who is celebrated in the song "Whistleblower" on the latest album by rockabilly maestro Tav Falco. "It is an anthem of protest and a homage to heroes of our age: Snowden, Manning, Greenwald, Anonymous, and others known and unknown," he says. A couple of days later, Australian protest singer Andy Paine put in a fine performance on 3CR radio's Global Intifada show. As his song "ASIO" points out: "Oh, ASIO, what you'll never know is when your conscience is clear, you've got nothing to hide and no need to spy." A fortnight later, British post-punks Killing Joke - whose singer Jaz Coleman has moved to NZ to escape British surveillance - released their latest album, featuring songs like "War On Freedom" and "Panopticon". MORE>>>
10. SAMUEL CLAIBORNE - LOVE, LUST AND GENOCIDE
On October 15, whistleblower website The Intercept released The Drone Papers, detailing the inner workings of the US assassination programme in the Middle East. The cache dump sparked some media hand-wringing over whether such a programme increases terrorism. It also added extra weight - as if any were needed - to the latest album by acclaimed poet Samuel Claiborne. On "21st Century War", he sings: "Our soldiers piss on dead Taliban and that offends us. It's the 21st century and war is supposed to be sanitary. We know this because we watch our smart bombs and drone strikes on our TVs from 40,000 feet. Our media avert our eyes and we are secretly relieved." But despite all the advances in technology, little has changed in warfare, as a new album by protest singer John Prine illustrates. Recorded in 1971 when he appeared on the radio show of legendary liberal broadcaster Studs Terkel, it includes the song "Sam Stone" about a US Vietnam War veteran who dies of a heroin overdose. MORE>>>
11. THE SELECTER - SUBCULTURE
Australia's black deaths in custody are a national disgrace, but sadly not an isolated problem, as the many songs protesting police killings worldwide show. Highlighting the omnipotence is the album NYHK: A United Front Against Police Brutality on which New York artist Jon Shina teams up with Hong Kong electronic duo Snoblind. This month, R'n'B star Usher also teamed up with rapper Nas with a groundbreaking music video that detects when the viewer averts their gaze from the victims of police brutality on the screen. In a similar vein, the new album from British ska veterans The Selecter lists deceased victims of British police brutality. On October 9, jazz musician Christian Scott performed the song "Ku Klux Police Department" on NPR radio to promote his innovative new album. And at the end of the month, US R'n'B super-producer Blood Orange released the song "Sandra's Smile" about Sandra Bland, who died in custody this year. Even film director Quentin Tarantino has joined the protests. MORE>>>
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.