The world is literally burning up in August 2019 and there's little to get excited about, but musicians are fighting back with some strong protest music that will make you feel good. Here are the best new albums that related to this month's political news. What albums would you suggest? Comment on Twitter, Facebook, or email.
1. DENISE HO – HOCC ON THE PULSE OF 2019 CONCERT LIVE
As pro-democracy rallies in Hong Kong intensified at the start of the month, pop star Denise Ho spoke out in support of the protesters. Yet she was not simply paying them lip service. Ho, the first major Hong Kong singer to come out publicly as a lesbian in 2012, has been a fixture on the front line of the protests, even getting tear-gassed alongside her fellow activists. "I believe that my celebrity and also the fact that people recognise me – especially the police recognise me – is something that can protect the people," she said. Her actions came as British punks The Damned praised the protesters as they toured their new political album in Hong Kong, and artists spoke out against homophobia worldwide. As Australia pushed for the "religious freedom" to be homophobic, metal band Within Temptation cancelled a festival show in Lebanon in solidarity with gay local band Mashrou' Leila, who were pulled from the bill after “violent threats” from “religious fanatics”. MORE>>>
2. TAYLOR SWIFT – LOVER
Also backing LGBGT rights was US pop star Taylor Swift, who came out as politically outspoken with the release of her new album this month, led by anti-homophobic anthem "You Need To Calm Down". Explaining her previous political silence, Swift said: “I come from country music. The number one thing they absolutely drill into you as a country artist, and you can ask any other country artist this, is ‘Don’t be like the Dixie Chicks!’ … I watched country music snuff that candle out. The most amazing group we had, just because they talked about politics. And they were getting death threats. They were made such an example that basically every country artist that came after that, every label tells you, ‘Just do not get involved, no matter what.’” Seemingly making up for lost time, Swift admitted she "didn’t know about my white privilege", slammed US president Donald Trump's "autocracy", promised to be involved in the 2020 election and declared: "Obviously I am pro-choice." MORE>>>
3. SLEATER-KINNEY – THE CENTRE WON'T HOLD
As pro-choice activists rallied to get abortion legalised in New South Wales, revered US feminist indie rockers Sleater-Kinney released their new pro-choice album. Its song "Broken" is a tribute to Christine Blasey Ford, who alleged that anti-abortion US supreme court nominee Brett Kavanaugh assaulted her in 1982. “She stood up for us when she testified,” Corin Tucker sings. “Me, me too. My body cried out when she spoke those lines.” Kavanaugh was appointed anyway. "The legal part is mind-numbingly slow to change,” said Tucker. Her bandmate Carrie Brownstein agreed, adding: “Straight, white men are in a state of disinheritance from positions of power that they assumed were their inalienable right. When you have so many people fearful of losing power, what they do to keep it is the brutality we’re living in. Take anti-abortion legislation – there’s such pushback when there is progress.” MORE>>>
4. EILEN JEWELL – GYPSY
One country artist unafraid of pushback is Eilen Jewell, a self-described "pinko Commie" whose new album tackling sexism and racism was released amid a flurry of racist murders this month. On "79 Cents (The Meow Song)", she sings: "Whether she's rich, or toiling in a ditch, no matter the color of her collar, the heart of your home, works her fingers to the bone, for 79 cents to your dollar... But if her skin is brown, her pay goes down. It’s a nickel to the white man's dime. But don't complain, or they'll call you insane, people call me 'left-wing swine'... 'Love it or leave it', ad nauseam is repeated, with fevered regurgitation. It means 'Bend over and take it. If you don’t like it fake it. For the sake of the male population'." And addressing Donald "grab 'em by the pussy" Trump, she sings: "So ladies, think twice, if Uncle Sam seems nice. You say he doesn't mean it now. But Mr Status Quo, oh, don't you know He's grabbing us right in the 'meow'." MORE>>>
5. KING GIZZARD & THE LIZARD WIZARD – INFEST THE RATS' NEST
On August 15, aspiring Mars colonist Elon Musk unleashed a Trump-style Twitter storm by tweeting to his 28 million followers: "Nuke Mars!" The move brought to mind the National Geographic docudrama Mars, which warns that interplanetary colonists risk exporting the same destructive capitalism that is ruining Earth. The next day, prolific Melbourne psych rockers King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard released their new album, featuring the song "Mars For The Rich". Over heavy metal riffing, they growl: "Mars for the privileged. Earth for the poor. Mars terraforming slowly. Earth has been deformed. Just forget it, ya ain't coming here. The ticket's too dear." But on album opener "Planet B", they sing: "Urbanisation. Scarification. Population exodus. There is no Planet B. Open your eyes and see." The album came as Aboriginal activists launched a campaign to save New South Wales' water crisis-hit river towns, warning that, indeed, "there is no Planet B". MORE>>>
6. MONTAIGNE – COMPLEX
As schoolchildren gearing up to strike for the climate warned there is no Planet B, Sydney artist Montaigne released her new album, led by a music video she called her "homage to the youth climate movement". "To me the song is about this political moment,” she said, “where humanity is starting to realise how actually cooked this planet is, that it never had to be like this, and that we have the power now to overthrow those who’ve forced us into this corner... it reflects the feelings swirling around the current political shit-fest my generation is facing, and it attempts to transform the anxiety among those feelings into angry power. It’s like a fuel source.” The musician is no stranger to activism. In 2016, she accepted an Australian Recording Industry Association award for Best Breakthrough Artist with the words "people over profit" written on her chest and last year arrived at the ARIA awards with "Stop Adani" on her cheeks. Her album came as activists continued to resist the Adani coal mine. MORE>>>
7. MARIA BERALDO – CAVALA
On August 20, the hashtag #PrayForAmazonia went viral as social media users tried to draw attention to the Amazon rainforest, the "lungs of the Earth", which had been devastated for weeks by fires so intense they could be seen from space. Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who has opened up the Amazon to industry, tried to claim the fires were started by charity organisations. Ridiculing Bolsonaro, who has been dubbed the "Trump of the tropics", was lesbian pop innovator Maria Beraldo. “We have something like a dictator," she said of Bolsonaro, who recently hit headlines with a homophobic tweet asking: "What is a golden shower?". "It’s really hard in Brazil now, [homophobia] is growing... My album is telling my history, and I think it is really powerful for a lesbian woman to say her history.” As stories emerged of even bigger fires burning in Africa, aptly-named Nigerian artist Burna Boy promoted his new album, which rails against pollution and government corruption. MORE>>>
8. NEW MODEL ARMY – FROM HERE
On August 16 it was revealed that climate wrecker-in-chief Donald Trump wanted the US to buy Greenland because the melting Arctic was making it a strategic prize. Days later, English punks New Model Army, who once sang that Britain was the "51st state of America", released their new climate-referencing album, recorded on the tiny Norwegian of Giske. "Standing on its north coast," said one reviewer, "all you can see is water for miles – and if you could see anything resembling land, it would be the icy shores of Greenland." On "The Weather", they sing: "We change just like the weather. The wind blows a little stronger. The high tides reach a little further above the beach. And the sun burns hotter... And the hillsides they just grow drier. And the fires catch a little faster." Describing the album, the band said: "The record belongs to a very special place and also a particular time – what is happening in the world now and where we are as a band and as people." MORE>>>
9. NADIA TEHRAN – DOZAKH: ALL LOVERS HELL
As Australian activists protested against US troops in Darwin and the government's decision to join the persecution of Iran, an Iranian refugee who fled to Sweden as a child talked about her new album. Describing the song "Nazi Killer", Nadia Tehran said: "I wrote it after confrontation with Nazis on the street where I live... The whole thing ended with the Nazis running away from the scene, and me grabbing all their flyers and destroying them. I had such an adrenaline rush, because I had won the argument. But when I came home, I was just so sad. I felt so hurt because there were Nazis on my street and they were violent towards me, and even though I won, nobody backed me up. So I could write a song where I'm like, 'Yo, let's kill Nazis everyone!' or I could tell you about how it feels to live on the street where you meet Nazis outside your door telling you you're not welcome." MORE>>>
10. SHEER MAG - A DISTANT CALL
Empathising with refugees were US heavy rockers Sheer Mag on their new album, released on August 23. Singer Tina Halladay describes how she can’t shake tragic images of the US refugee crisis in “Unfound Manifest”, how she feels solidarity with plight of striking teachers in West Virginia on “Silver Line” and introduces a character “living cheque to cheque" on “Blood From a Stone”. Likewise, rapper Vic Mensa addresses the brutal US treatment of refugees on his innovative new album that blends rock with rap under the moniker 93PUNX. Lead single "Camp America" is inspired by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement director Matthew Albence's comments comparing ICE's family detention centres to summer camps. Described as probably "the most political music video of the year", its clip portrays white children in detention centres as Mensa raps: "There’s a place, it’s the time of your life. No parents allowed and no playing inside. You can laugh, until you cry, at Camp America." MORE>>>
Video: 93PUNX, VIC MENSA - Camp America. Vic Mensa.
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.
On August 24, a Kickstarter fundraising campaign was launched in Melbourne for Radio Freedom, a compilation album featuring 20 political/protest songs in all styles of music. "The long-term aim of the project is to establish a worker-owned, for-profit record label," says the campaign. "The musicians on Radio Freedom will get a percentage which is well over the industry norm." You can join the Kickstarter campaign here, but hurry - it ends on September 23.