Here's a look back at July's political news and the best new music that related to it. You can also listen to a podcast of this column, including an 11-year-old schoolkid giving his verdict on all the albums, here.
1. JAMES GORDON - EMERGENCY CLIMATE MUSICAL
On July 1, the "world's most extreme heatwave in modern history" started giant fires that generated huge clouds of choking smoke in western Canada. A fortnight later, Canadian musician James Gordon released his new album, When I Stayed Home, featuring the song, "Water Is Rising". The musician, who is a member of the National Climate Leadership Caucus, sings in the song: "Out on the coast, they’ve got wildfires and drought. How can anybody say that they still have their doubts? Water is rising, water is rising." The song also features on his preceding, climate change-themed, album, Emergency Climate Musical. Gordon, who has introduced climate change motions in his work as a city councillor, described the climate album and its accompanying virtual tour as "a 90-minute theatrical investigation of what surely is THE issue in these uncertain times". LISTEN>>>
2. BARENAKED LADIES - DETOUR DE FORCE
As politicians worldwide ignored the climate emergency to instead focus on reopening the world-trashing economy amid the coronavirus pandemic, Gordon's fellow Canadian musicians Barenaked Ladies released an apt new album on July 16. On the song "New Disaster" they sing: "Here comes a new disaster. Here comes the end of days. Next up the sweet hereafter. We'll tell you all about it after this commercial break. Stay tuned for scary monsters. Watch out for rising tides. But first a word from sponsors. Might be a mess but it's a hell of a good time... The devil's in the details. They're killing it at retail. So cross-promote, now cast your vote, there's plenty of room on the lifeboat." The band's dubious name, chosen because it was the most ridiculous moniker they could think of - belies a serious side, as they have long backed activists and environmentalists. LISTEN>>>
3. JACKSON BROWNE - DOWNHILL FROM EVERYWHERE
A government mission to open up Canada's iconic Rocky Mountains for coal mining was being opposed by an "unlikely" coalition of right- and left-wingers led by local country musician Corb Lund, it was reported on July 19. Appealing a court decision to stop the mines was Australia's richest woman, Gina Rinehart. Also fighting the courts was Australia's Environment Minister, Sussan Ley, who on July 16 appealed a ruling that she must protect children from climate harm. Railing against such climate injustice towards children is the new album from 72-year-old veteran protest singer Jackson Browne, released on July 23. On "Until Justice Is Real" he sings: "What is democracy? What is the deal? What would it look like? How would it feel? Putting your shoulder to the wheel. And staying with it until justice - until justice is real." LISTEN>>>
4. THE VOVOS - JANA
Speaking directly for the kids is the dazzling debut album from The Vovos, who met through two consecutive Girls Rock! camps in Melbourne and started jamming when they were as young as 14. On the typically catchy "Eat Your Greens" they sing: "In 15 years you'll say COULDA, SHOULDA, WOULDA stopped the coal, saved the air, COULDA, SHOULDA, WOULDA stopped waters rising everywhere, COULDA, SHOULDA, WOULDA showed us all that you care, COULDA, SHOULDA, WOULDA. But you didn't, did you?" Those fighting at the frontline of Australia's environmental destruction, the country's Aboriginal people, continued to be brutally oppressed with yet more deaths in custody on July 8 and 10. Hitting back are new albums from Newcastle hardcore band Rort Menace, who rail against Black deaths in custody on "Royal Permission", and Indigenous-led punks Chasing Ghosts, whose tour starts on July 30. LISTEN>>>
5. DANIEL BACHMAN - AXACAN
Also calling out the colonisers is US musician Daniel Bachman, whose new album features field recordings taken from sites of significance in his home state of Virginia. “Even the tunes that are entirely guitar-based were recorded at these sites," said Bachman, whose record is named after the failed Spanish colony of Axacan. "‘Coronach’ was recorded at the former site of Fredericksburg battlefield and Ferry Farm plantation, a site that is now a subdivision and is still very much haunted by its past. The birds, bugs, animal/plant sounds and unknown anomaly recordings on this album were taken from climate-sensitive sites, nature preserves and national parks... I hope that the sounds on this record are not only emotionally relatable to the listener, but also help to put our modern crises of the pandemic, climate change and white supremacy into a broader historical timeline." LISTEN>>>
6. GOLDENOAK - ROOM TO GROW
In the former Spanish colony of Texas, Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos blasted into space from his ranch on July 20, then thanked his notoriously exploited workers for funding the trip. "When you get into space and you can see the Earth's atmosphere, it's so thin and fragile looking, so we do have to take care of this planet," he said. But the answer was not to reduce emissions. "We can move all heavy industry and all polluting industry off of Earth and operate it in space," he said. As his fellow billionaire, Saudi prince Abdulaziz bin Salman, vowed on July 22 to drill "every last molecule" of oil, US folk band Goldenoak blasted such vandalism on their new climate change-themed album. On opener “Paradise” they sing: "Through the valley there’s a winding stream, little river in the springtime. But the grasses don’t keep their green when the rain's not fallin’." LISTEN>>>
7. TEWKSBURY - PATHS
The consequences of such droughts exploded on July 18, as the largest forest wildfire in US history ravaged Oregon. Almost directly north, electronic musician David Tewksbury found inspiration for his new climate change-themed album, writing his song “Sitaantaago Elegy” after seeing first-hand the retreat of a glacier in Alaska. “I wanted to try to make moments of stillness and transcendence in the face of looming disaster," he said. His travels to Norway, Newfoundland and Sweden were also a muse. “I was witnessing such impossible beauty in the ice, places so remarkable that I could barely believe they existed. Yet there was a sadness hovering over each of these experiences, that these things will soon be lost. And maybe we, as a species, will be lost, too. I wanted to commemorate this singular feeling of both unbearable beauty and unbearable loss in this album.” LISTEN>>>
8. CLARK - PLAYGROUND IN A LAKE
On July 3, union organiser Fala Haulangi told a web forum about the “everyday challenges” her people in the low-lying island nation of Tuvalu already face from rising sea levels caused by melting ice. On July 13, Queen guitarist Brian May's home flooded with sewage in London's storms. On July 16, climate scientists were reported to be shocked by the scale of floods in Germany. And on July 22, it was reported that at least 25 people had been killed and 200,000 displaced by floods in China. Instead of responding with aid, Australia held a joint military training exercise with the US to threaten China. The exercise also threatened to pollute the already-endangered Great Barrier Reef. Documenting such environmental lunacy is the new climate-themed album from British techno musician Clark. On the song "Emissary", a choirboy sings: “I’m like an animal trapped in a flood.” LISTEN>>>
9. RODNEY CROWELL - TRIAGE
Speaking about getting a choirboy to sing on his climate-themed album, Clark said: "It felt like I was exorcising something through a child’s voice. I felt like his voice is one of a betrayed child. I certainly feel that adults these days need to be good ancestors to kids." A similar sentiment can be found on the new album by Rodney Crowell, who has written numerous No. 1 hits. Asked about the album's theme, he cited "this planet that we live on, that's so benevolent and so giving ... And yet, we human beings take all of this so for granted and in our unconscious way treat it like a trash can." On "Something Has To Change", he sings: "It's people not money, through which evil works. The haves and the have nots, are just one of the perks. Where life has a purpose, faith has a voice. We can't live in fear, and in trembling rejoice. Someday, some way, something has to change." LISTEN>>>
10. ANIKA - CHANGE
Also calling for change is Change, the new album from acclaimed experimental electronic musician Anika, released on July 23. The song “Never Coming Back” was inspired by Rachel Carson’s environmental book Silent Spring. "We take things for granted, until it’s too late," said Anika, a former political journalist, who previously released an explicitly climate change-themed EP called Summer Came Early. "Care for the environment has quickly been moved to the back-burner.” But the title track strikes a more hopeful note. "People don't change, that's what they say," she sings. "And we all have things to learn. About each other, about the world, about ourselves. We could do well to listen sometimes and not to shout around about things we know nothing about. But I think we all have it inside. I think we can learn from each other. I think we can change." LISTEN>>
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Mat Ward has been writing for Green Left since 2009. He also wrote the book Real Talk: Aboriginal Rappers Talk About Their Music And Country and makes political music. This year, he released a concept album about the controversial mission to make humans an interplanetary species. You can download the expanded edition free for a limited time here.
Stream our new "Protest albums of 2021" playlist on Spotify here. This replaces the previous "Political albums" playlist, that was getting too big at more than 700 albums.
Read about more political albums here.
Stream Green Left TV's political music playlist here.
Listen to this column as a podcast here.
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