1. THE SPECIALS - ENCORE
On February 1, British ska legends The Specials released their new album, noting that politics had hardly changed since they last recorded together 38 years ago. “I find myself in awe of the mess, nightly listening to politicians giving their opinion and thinking, I don’t necessarily trust any of you, really," said frontman Terry Hall. "It is pretty sad." That disillusion is summed up in lead single "Vote For Me". Guitarist Lynval Golding said: “[Former British Prime Minister] Maggie [Thatcher] inspired us to write songs. And with this new song, 'Vote For Me', we are telling them that we wouldn’t vote for them. None of them. Because the people who have been elected to represent us now are doing a very, very, very bad job.” An album highlight is the guest vocal from Saffiyah Khan, the woman who confronted the English Defence League in a photo that went viral online, who asserts: "You can call me a feminazi or a femoid and see if I give a stinking shit." MORE>>>
2. PIROSHKA - BRICKBAT
Also marvelling at the mess of British politics were indie supergroup Piroshka, made up of former members of Elastica, Moose, Lush and Modern English. "This Must Be Bedlam" on their new album, released on February 15, couches its Brexit barbs in dreamy pop and bouncing basslines. "I was just trying to get just the general morass of different people pointing the finger at each other, and just the general confusion," said frontwoman Miki Berenyi. Her partner, guitarist K.J. McKillop, added: "All the members of the band, we're quite politically engaged. In some ways, it's the only game in town: You know, we sit down with friends for a drink or for dinner and it's difficult to get off the subject of how people feel about, not just Brexit, but the state of the economy. But to be honest, I am a socialist and everything for me is political. It's how I engage with the world." LISTEN>>>
3. PET SHOP BOYS - AGENDA
Taking such sentiments and giving them a polished pop sheen were British chart-toppers the Pet Shop Boys, with their new EP, released just a week earlier. On "Give Stupidity A Chance", frontman Neil Tennant sings: "Instead of governing with thoughtful sensitivity, let’s shock and awe the world with idiotic bigotry. Let’s lead this world a merry dance - and give stupidity a chance." The band are not jumping on any protest music bandwagon - despite being in the Guinness book of Records as the most successful British duo of all time, they have always been outspoken. Their 1985 hit "Opportunities (Let’s Make Lots of Money)" parodied the greed of Thatcherism, their 1993 cover of "Go West" called for gay rights, their 2006 song "I’m With Stupid" attacked Tony Blair and George W Bush, then "Integral", from the same year, criticised government surveillance. Earworm "Social Media", from their new EP, takes a similar stance, while hooking you in like an addictive app. MORE>>>
4. NATALIA ZUKERMAN - THE WOMEN WHO RODE AWAY
The dangers of social media were also highlighted by Britain's minister for mental health and suicide prevention on February 5 after the suicide of teenager Molly Russell. Tackling the kind of self-loathing that afflicts many teens was folk-country artist Natalia Zukerman on her new album, released on February 1. On "In The Long Mirror" she sings: "I had a feminist art teacher when I was 14 years old, made me think about things for the first time. She scared me shitless, she was so fearless and bold - and I think she might have saved my young life. She talked about parties in the 60's where women learned to love their bodies - their symbol was a little white dove. Everyone would gather nearer and look in the long mirror. And see themselves with a new kind of love." On February 10, fellow folk-country musician Brandi Carlile, who married her wife in an illegal ceremony in 2012, performed her empowerment protest song "The Joke" at the Grammy Awards. LISTEN>>>
5. VARIOUS ARTISTS - SONGHIVE: BEELORE & FOLKSONG IN THE BRITISH ISLES
As plummeting insect populations were reported to be heralding the "collapse of nature" on February 11, Carlile's fellow folk musicians in Britain were trying to save the honeybee with their fundraising album, Songhive. "The project began as I noticed more and more folk artists including songs and tunes in their sets which referenced the bees," said musician Rowan Piggott. "It seemed to me that almost every album I bought in the last year has had some mention of them... Folk music has long been fraught with political dissent and attended by social change. Perhaps this collection will serve to highlight how the decline of bees has entered the public consciousness." On the album's track "Queen & Country" he sings: "Where there once was a gate to palace of gold, flanked by guards in their striped livery, you'll find corpses piled high 'cause the honey's run dry, To pay those from the mortuary." MORE>>>
6. SOLE - DESTITUENT
Exploring that same "tension between urban and rural life" was radical rap veteran Sole, with his self-produced post-punk-style album Destituent, released on February 22. Discussing lead single "Battle Rap Against Oblivion" he said: "I linked up with director/rapper KidDead and we put together a near-future dystopian short horror film to accompany the track. It's set in the near future as I am trying to piece together what happened after a sort of collapse. As I was filming this video it really struck me how real all this shit is. We created a kind of 'Beautiful mind-esque' collage that would serve as the 'intro reel to the disaster movie', you know, where it shows all these news clips of tsunamis and plagues foretelling a disaster. It only took a few minutes of going through newspapers to put it together - which is messed up - and as I was rapping it I realised that this shit was not a joke at all, and it really hit me that we are truly living through such times." LISTEN>>>
7. TIM HEIDECKER - ANOTHER YEAR IN HELL
Helping hurtle the world towards oblivion was climate-wrecking US President Donald Trump, whose followers attacked a BBC cameraman at one of his rallies on February 12. Mocking such events was the new country album from comedian Tim Heidecker, who sings on "Ballad Of The Incel Man": "Got my picture of Obama, which we'll burn in effigy. But I hope I'll find a like-minded girl, tonight at the Trump rally. Maybe I'll get to sit, behind the man they love to hate. And watch him throw a fit, about problems I can't contemplate. Oh, sometimes he scares me, when he goes on one of those rants. Sometimes I don't know what he's talking about, but it makes them liberals shit their pants." Striking the same chord with a more serious tone was country musician Hayes Carll. The song "Fragile Men" from his new album, released on February 15, sneers: "The whole world is exploding and I know it feels so strange, it must make you so damn angry they're expecting you to change." LISTEN>>>
8. MARCEL CARTIER - REVOLUTIONARY MINDED, VOL. 5
On February 23, billionaire Richard Branson held a Live Aid-style concert to get Trump's white supremacist aid convoy into Venezuela, even though Trump's own aide John Bolton had admitted on Fox News that the US invasion was all about oil. Hitting back was Pink Floyd frontman Roger Waters, who pointed out that the Red Cross and United Nations were already providing aid in Venezuela and had warned Trump not to "politicise aid". On February 22, Waters' fellow anti-imperialist and longtime Venezuela supporter Marcel Cartier launched his new book, Serkeftin: A Narrative of the Rojava Revolution, which he wrote while visiting northern Syria’s predominately Kurdish areas. The globe-trotting rapper and reporter accompanied it with the song "Serkeftin" - a Kurdish word for "victory" - found on his latest album. The book came a month after Waters chartered a jet to rescue two stranded Trinidadian boys from Syria, after they had been abducted and taken there by their father. LISTEN>>>
9. VARIOUS ARTISTS - GULLY BOY
Marcel Cartier is proof of the global reach of hip-hop and this month's hit Bollywood film showed the genre is finally blowing up in India. Gully Boy, released on February 9, tells the true story of Muslim street rappers breaking out of Mumbai's slums as Indian PM Narendra Modi whips up Hindu nationalism and cracks down on dissent. African-American rappers have long sampled Bollywood music made by some of the best music producers in the world. So it's no surprise that Indian hip-hop is no pale imitation of the African-American version, but something new entirely. Also hitting Indian cinemas this month was the Tamil movie Sarvam Taala Mayam. The film, scored by revered Bollywood composer AR Rahman, tells the story of a lower caste Dalit-Christian boy who accidentally finds his calling in Carnatic music, but is rebuffed by the caste-class fence around the genre, which is the preserve of upper-caste Brahmins. He eventually manages to break down the caste barriers. MORE>>>
10. OUR NATIVE DAUGHTERS - SONGS OF OUR NATIVE DAUGHTERS
Also breaking down barriers were banjo-brandishing supergroup Our Native Daughters, whose new album released on February 22 voices African-American women’s stories of struggle, resistance, and hope. “As we got deeper into the project, into the source material, slave narratives, and minstrel history, I kept feeling the parallels to my own life and experience,” said the band's Allison Russell. “I survived 10 years of sexual, physical, psychological abuse and dehumanising treatment as a child at the hands of my white American adopted father." The album travels to some dark places, yet the music is so beautifully played and produced that it never becomes unbearably ugly. The new album from country-blues musician Carsie Blanton is almost as unflinching. "We stole this nation, fair and square, and a whole lot of people in chains," she sings on "American Kid". "But it was all for the glory of God, I swear. And the glory of capital gains." MORE>>>
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Mat Ward has been writing for Green Left Weekly 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 new album about surveillance and an EP with Aboriginal rapper Provocalz. Follow him on Spotify here.
Read about more political albums here.
Stream Green Left TV's political music playlist here.
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