1. SON VOLT – UNION
At the start of the month, an 18-year-old construction worker was killed as scaffolding collapsed in Sydney - the fifth building site death in Australia this year. The tragedy highlighted the need for strong unions in the construction industry as they face a government ever more determined to shut them down. Three days earlier, US alternative country rockers Son Volt released their new album backing unions. The title track, "Union", "speaks to how media conglomerates make profit by dividing people”, said band leader Jay Farrar. The album came as Queen drummer Roger Taylor, who previously released a song slamming divisive media baron Rupert Murdoch as "king of the tits", released a similarly seething new song titled "Gangsters Are Running This World". Days later, US punk diehards Chokehold released their first album in more than two decades, calling for more unity among leftists who attack each other on social media. "No more us versus us," they said. "It's us versus them." MORE>>>
2. RAPTOR COMMAND – ELON
As union-bashing, coal-loving Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison geared up to call the federal election on April 11, he slammed the opposition's plan for half of new vehicle sales to be electric by 2030. That prompted Elon Musk, controversial CEO of electric car company Tesla, to point out that Norway had already reached that milestone this year. Days later, US heavy metal band Raptor Command released a concept album about Musk that's as thunderous and thrusting as one of his SpaceX rockets. The fact that Musk's cars get heavy metallers excited enough to sing "energy and power keep us calling all the shots, I'm racing down the road with my one hundred thousand watts" goes a long way to explaining how he's inspired the entire car industry to start building electric cars. The album, which also champions solar energy as a giant "Fusion Reactor (In The Sky)", came as Morrison approved the giant Adani coalmine, which threatens to destroy Australia's Great Barrier Reef in Queensland. MORE>>>
3. LIZZO – CUZ I LOVE YOU
In an apparent sign he really does have a heart, Morrison choked back tears on April 5 as he announced a royal commission into the abuse of disabled Australians while citing his brother-in-law, who has multiple sclerosis. Yet just three days earlier his government had announced a budget surplus from a future "$3 billion underspend in the National Disability Insurance Scheme, after a $3.4 billion underspend in the current financial year". The news came as Californian Marxist activist Cola Boyy, who has spina bifida, promoted his new EP while gearing up to play the huge Coachella festival. His chosen genre - the able-bodied dancing haven of disco - is a statement in itself. “My existence is political," he said. "I have no other choice than struggle.” Also preaching body positivity and self-love is US artist Lizzo, whose powerful, catchy soul is as hard-hitting as her message. “The only exes I care about are in my fucking chromosomes,” she hollers on her new album. MORE>>>
4. RUPA & THE APRIL FISHES – GROWING UPWARD
On April 21, as Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi whipped up anti-Muslim fervour among voters, Muslim extremists bombed the neighbouring island of Sri Lanka, leaving hundreds dead and many more disabled. Two days earlier, San Francisco-based Indian expat Rupa Marya released her highly political sixth album with her band, Rupa and The April Fishes. The doctor, who aims to "decolonise medicine" through her relentless international activism, said growing up in northern India, followed by the south of France, "really solidified my sense of living beyond nations and seeing a world where I could see the commonalities between people really clearly". Also influenced by the French is Tuareg guitarist Mdou Moctar, whose new album released days earlier notes how the colonisers treated his people "like slaves" as they took uranium and natural resources. On its title track, "Ilana" he sings in Tuareg: “Our heritage is taken by the people of France, occupying the valley of our ancestor.” MORE>>>
5. RUSSKAJA – NO ONE IS ILLEGAL
As someone who left his country to chase a dream, Mdou Moctar would relate well to the rollicking new album from Austrian polka rockers Russkaja. On the anthemic, multilingual title track, "No One Is Illegal", Georgij Makazaria sings for all refugees: "Sarah was a little girl, a girl like all the others. She loved to sing and play and dance, with her sisters and her brothers. She would be a mum someday, with a home and a loving man. But other people somewhere else had a different plan. Her family gone, her home alight, in that little village. She took flight, in the dead of night, from murder, rape and pillage. She barely made it out alive, she made it to this country. Won’t you give a helping hand? Nadie es ilegal. It ain’t hard to understand, niemand ist illegal. She found a life, she found a love, she became my mother. The story of a little girl, nadie es illegal. That’s the message to the world - niemand ist illegal." Yet on April 28, Australia froze its refugee intake. MORE>>>
6. GRUPO FANTASMA – AMERICAN MUSIC: VOLUME 7
Also not getting the message was US President Donald Trump, who told children during an Easter egg roll on April 22 that his contentious wall to stop "illegal immigrants" crossing the border from Mexico was "being built now". Days earlier, Texas band Grupo Fantasmo released their mostly Spanish-language seventh album, American Music: Volume 7, whose title is a reminder that American culture isn't just Anglophone. Highlight "The Wall" opens with the lines: "Mente positiva, venimos a cambiar. Mente positiva, venimos a luchar: Positive mind, we come to change. Positive mind, we come to struggle." Then they rap: "Walls are bound to fall, expose treachery. My pot is melting, best switch your recipe." On April 12, alternative folk rockers Shovels & Rope released their new album, including the song "C'Mon Utah!", which shares its name with their children's book about a mythical horse named Utah who reunites displaced families with their loved ones after the fall of Trump's wall. MORE>>>
7. TAINA ASILI – RESILIENCIA
In a similar vein, long-time Puerto Rican activist Taina Asili - famed for her song "No Es Mi Presidente" - released her new album Resiliencia on April 19, accompanied by documentaries about the resistance of women of colour worldwide. Aptly, one of the stories is that of Isabel Lopez, who crossed the border from Tijuana to California and later founded the non-profit Raizes Collective. “I’ve been so inspired because the problems that exist today didn’t come out of a vacuum," Asili said. "Colonialism, African slavery, colonisation of our lands all created a struggle that is going on to this day. There is a powerful legacy of resistance and resilience that I was able to celebrate and document here.” The album's feminist scope is wide, ranging from “Beauty Manifested”, which defies white hetero-patriarchal beauty norms, to a salsa fusion rendition of poet Sussy Santana’s “Decir Que No (To Say No)", which celebrates establishing healthy boundaries. MORE>>>
8. GANG OF FOUR – HAPPY NOW
Also taking on Trump were the hugely influential British post-punk funksters Gang Of Four, named after a faction of the Chinese Communist Party. As Trump revealed this month that he'd nominated his daughter Ivanka to head the World Bank because "she's good with numbers", the band released their new album, which references an interview in which Ivanka was asked whether she was complicit in her father's decisions. She replied: “I don’t know what it means to be complicit. If being complicit is wanting to be a force of good and to make a positive impact, then I’m complicit." Critics pointed out that the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines the word as “helping to commit a crime or do wrong in some way”. On "Ivanka: 'My Name's On It'", Gang Of Four sing: "Where once were her eyes Ivanka now sees through pearls. She said I don't know what it means to be complicit... I saw how hard daddy worked for his money. Daddy loves women and he believes in family." MORE>>>
9. LOWKEY – SOUNDTRACK TO THE STRUGGLE 2
Rolling Stone magazine once described Gang of Four as "probably the best politically motivated band in rock and roll". Those are big shoes to fill, but if any artist is worthy it's British Iraqi rapper Lowkey, who returned to music this month after seven years of studying to sharpen his politics. His new album, released on April 5, opens with the rapper interviewing one of the world's top living intellectuals, Noam Chomsky, and doesn't let up from there. It would all be pretty niche, however, if his rapping didn't rate and the hooks weren't huge, but much of the album is so instantly infectious it feels like you've been hearing it on the radio all year. However, as one of the skits on the album points out, Lowkey's success is all the more remarkable because he never garnered radio play and did it all independently. Little wonder when his subject matter is so uncompromising, from gunning for Palestine, to burning up the perpetrators of London's Grenfell Tower blaze. MORE>>>
10. SEAN TAYLOR – THE PATH INTO BLUE
Grenfell also features on the artwork for the new album from British folk singer Sean Taylor, released on April 12. On the song "Grenfell" he draws a bitter line between the tragedy of the fire and inequality, singing: “The working class get zero hours - and a place to die in Grenfell Towers." However, the album casts its net far wider than that, from depression and religion to alcoholism and Brexit. Also battling Brexit - and namechecking Grenfell - is house music DJ turned avant garde experimentalist Matthew Herbert, whose sprawling new two-hour concept album about Brexit is a fitting metaphor for the protracted negotiations. It was released on March 29 to mark Brexit's deadline, but the deadline came and went, with only Matthew Herbert delivering. If the elites wanted Brexit, would the voters' mandate have been passed without a whimper? It's a question that hangs as uncomfortably as the discordant notes in Herbert's unsettling work. MORE>>>
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Mat Ward has been writing for Green Left Weekly since 2009. He is the author of the book Real Talk: Aboriginal Rappers Talk About Their Music And Country. He also makes political music. This year, he released a new album about surveillance including a song about Julian Assange who was arrested this month. Follow him on Spotify here.
Read about more political albums here.
Stream Green Left TV's political music playlist here.
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