10 of the best political albums you'll hear this year

November 29, 2018

Here are the best new albums that related to this month's politics. (There are actually far more than 10 - count them). What albums would you suggest? Comment on TwitterFacebook, or email. This column is taking a break and will return at the end of January.


At the start of the month, as the canal-based city of Venice was trying to recover from flooding, protest music veteran David Crosby discussed his new album, which features the song "Vagrants Of Venice". “It’s a vision we have of when Venice in the future when it’s completely underwater,” he said. “It’s ironic that the album came out the same week that happened, but also really pretty sad.” The album's lush melodies and beautiful production belie the righteous anger that rages in its lyrics. Days later, the home of Crosby's former bandmate, Neil Young, was destroyed in California's climate change-induced wildfires, leading Young to publicly criticise US president Donald Trump after he blamed forest mismanagement for the blaze. Yet as intellectual Noam Chomsky pointed out on November 1, Trump evidently believes in climate change, despite his denials and climate-wrecking policies, because he is building a wall to protect one of his golf courses from rising sea levels. MORE>>>


As Trump-style climate-wrecking policies continued in Australia, activists organised a November 30 forum against fracking in the Northern Territory. A week before the forum, Northern Territory band Southeast Desert Metal released their new album, which hits back at the desecration of Aboriginal land. The Indigenous fivesome from the former mission of Santa Teresa, dubbed "the most isolated metal band in the world", sing on "Raise Our Flag": "Here we are today, still marching for our rights, still fighting for our lands, to break these chains, to be free. The soil will always be ours, no one can take it away from us. Our spirit's still strong in our culture and dance and songs. We must raise our flag, raise it high into the air." As the album was released, moves were afoot to dump radioactive waste in South Australia, sell off Aboriginal land in Western Australia and start Adani's Great Barrier Reef-wrecking coal mine in western Queensland. MORE>>>


In southern Queensland, activists continued to fight the Acland coal mine, whose expansion hit a legal hurdle on November 7. Five days earlier, just across the border in New South Wales, Aboriginal Byron Bay band Indigenoise released their new album, which rails against such destructive greed. Over the bass-heavy psychedelic dubstep of "HGMBT", they rap: "I'm sick to death of seeing my people struggle for the sake of the elites, so I'm a get them evil money demons and take them back out on the streets. We want that Hundred Gram Mill Bill Trill kinda deal, we steal it all from the rich to feed the poor for real." Speaking about single "New Code", frontwoman Roslyn Barnett said: "So many people are caught up in the black mirrors of this world, so it's a call to bring one's self out of the ones and zeros (matrix) and into the golden earth we live on... the new dimension." The band celebrate all aspects of their roots, from Aboriginal Australia to earth's "viking north". LISTEN>>> 


In the "viking north" of Britain, indie musician Darren Hayman released the final part of his Thankful Villages album trilogy on November 9, to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War, which was brought about by a little-celebrated workers' revolt. In visiting each one of Britain's 54 villages where every soldier returned alive from WWI, Hayman often unearths the unexpected. In Minting, he meets a metal-detecting enthusiast who's dug up a Civil War pendant that would be worn under the clothes so that "if they were caught by royalists" they could show its surface featuring the king and queen, but keep it hidden "if they were caught by proletarians". And in Teigh, he hears the story of a woman who delved into her family history only to be shocked to find her father and grandfather were fascist and Nazi sympathisers. Its release came as Britain tore itself apart over Brexit, bringing politicised albums from English punk veterans The Damned and Jah Wobble. LISTEN>>>


Two days later, Midnight Oil marked one year since their Armistice Day concert in Sydney's Domain with the release of its recording as an album and DVD. They describe the venue as "a place that encapsulates a nation’s history". "For thousands of years it was a ceremonial site for the local Gadigal people," they say. "In the 20th century the Domain became known as the home of soapbox oratory and political rallies. From the Great Depression to the Vietnam War, this is the place where people came together to debate the issues that shaped modern Australia." For some, the album will be a sublime retrospective of a legendary Australian political band. For others, it will be an exercise in cognitive dissonance as frontman Peter Garrett sings about the kind of politicians he himself became as a federal government minister. Its release came as activists called for Armistice Day to be reclaimed as a celebration of peace, rather than the glorification of war it has become. MORE>>>


In Paris, French President Emmanuel Macron marked Armistice Day by ending his "bromance" with Trump as he berated the US president's nationalistic politics to his face while other world leaders - denounced by activists as "war criminals" - looked on. In response, Trump slammed Macron's low approval ratings said France would have lost the war without the US. No doubt cringing was renowned singer Barbra Streisand, whose new, Trump-taunting album is unusually political. Streisand makes the kind of easy listening lounge music that pipes through the lobbies of Trump's hotels. In reviewing footage of her concerts for a new Netflix documentary about her, she even found Trump sitting in the audience at one of her gigs. So to hear her laying into the president over such untypical protest music - she even manages to make a love song double as a political screed - is a refreshing change. The album's title track, "Walls", warns that people now “build them where they shouldn’t be”. MORE>>>    


Also riffing on Trump's wall was jazz musician Arturo O'Farrill, who discussed his new album with NPR radio on November 16 as a caravan of refugees reached the US border. The expansive album, Fandango At The Wall, was recorded at the border crossing in Tijuana, Mexico where, every year for the past decade, musicians have gathered on either side of the wall to perform music together across the divide and illustrate that the border is "a false construct". Days after O'Farrill discussed the album, which has also been made into a book and forthcoming film, Trump's troops began tear-gassing the caravan, including children. The move made the release of Barbara Hendricks' new blues album, featuring her "Medley For Refugee Children", all the more timely. O'Farrill, who says his music has always been political, also described how he was once almost deported himself, when he was stopped by a US state trooper who found a clerical error on his genuine green card. MORE>>>


Being stopped by a US state trooper is worrying enough for migrants, but for African-Americans it's like staring death in the face, as illustrated on the new album by US rapper Bobby Sessions. On "Lights", which ends with a trooper saying "licence and registration please", Sessions says: "We say 'Black Lives Matter', you respond with 'Blue Lives Matter'. I'm sure you have a son that's a cop, mother, a father. I'm sure having that job to serve and protect the community means a lot to your family. But my skin colour, that's not a job I can clock out from or a career that I can retire from. It's me every day, 24/7. And you just compared your profession with my existence. See how disrespectful that is?" The record's November 16 release came two days after the family of an African-American who was suffocated to death by police held a press conference to call for justice. A day after the album came out, a far-right rally disguised a pro-police event was held in Philadelphia. MORE>>>


The whole point of refugees travelling to the US border in a human caravan was to ensure their safety in numbers, yet the queer members among them faced threats from within the caravan itself. Always watching such global politics closely are Australian feminist punks Glitoris, who have a strong LGBTQI following. The band started out by playing gigs naked and covered in glitter, yet quickly realised their music was strong enough without such gimmicks. The stupendous strength of their debut album, released on November 2, shows why they are able to preach way beyond the converted. In discussing the album, they said: "We’ve got a lot of fans from the LGBTQI community, we’ve got a lot of trans fans, but we’ve also got a huge number of heterosexual white males. In fact, I’d say they’re the people we’ve resonated with the most. We feel they want to engage with feminist discourses, but they don’t know a way into that.... that’s why Glitoris is so important." LISTEN>>>


The antithesis of Glitoris is Australia's "daggy dad" Prime Minister, Scott "Fatman Scoop" Morrison, who showed just how out of touch with the kids he was by releasing a ridiculed Spotify playlist this month. Never one to dig himself out of a hole, the coal-loving PM then got down further with the kids by telling schoolchildren planning a strike against adults' failed climate policies on November 30 that they should be "less activist". Joining the dots between climate change and animal agriculture was activist Jeff Melton, who wrote on November 26 that beyond overthrowing capitalism, going vegetarian was one of the most immediate and effective actions people could take to save the planet. As Americans stuffed themselves with Thanksgiving turkey and other nations geared up for more of the same at Christmas, British metal band Ohhms released a new album whose fight for animal rights is as "fiercely enunciated here as on any anarcho-punk or vegan hardcore record". LISTEN>>> 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Mat Ward has been writing for Green Left Weekly since 2009 and wrote the book Real Talk: Aboriginal Rappers Talk About Their Music And Country. He also makes political music and just released a new album about Elon Musk. Follow him on Spotify here.

Stream our political albums playlist on Spotifyhere.

Read about more political albums here.

Stream Green Left TV's political music playlist here.

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