10 new political albums worth a listen - March 2015

The F Spot was released on International Women's Day.
Thursday, March 26, 2015

Here's this month's radical record round-up, with an emphasis on International Women's Day. What album, or albums, would you suggest? Comment below, on Twitter or Facebook.

1. VARIOUS ARTISTS - THE F SPOT FEMMES FATALES

"Did you know that only 13% of songs registered with the Performing Right Society are by female songwriters?" So opens the blurb for this folk-themed album, which was released on International Women's Day at the start of the month, to "smash these limiting statistics and inspire a generation of women". It came out just five days after Australia's Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, sent a further 300 soldiers to Iraq. Fitting, then, that one of the album's highlights is Marina Florance's "The Path He Chose", which asks: "Have we learned nothing, nothing at all? When will we stop sending young men to war?" However, if you'd like something a little more upbeat than folk music, you could try the Indigenous Hip-Hop Show's International Women's Day special, featuring a women-only line-up and an interview with Lady Lash. Or if you prefer guitars to turntables, download a Maximum Rock N Roll radio show special featuring female-fronted punk bands from all over the world. >>MORE

2. ATARI TEENAGE RIOT - RESET

At the start of the month, activists hit back at Australian Attorney-General George Brandis's data retention plan by copying him in on all their emails, saving taxpayers the cost of the government spying on them. Just days after that spamming, which reportedly crashed Brandis's email account, hacker enthusiasts Atari Teenage Riot released a free live EP to promote their latest full-priced album, which was released a few weeks earlier. One song found on both the EP and album, "J1M1", hits out at data retention as Berlin-born frontman Alec Empire screams: "Will history repeat itself when they're numbering you?!" The album is made on the same Atari computers they started with 23 years ago - now worth about $20 - and the clip for lead single "Modern Liars" is a similar thowback to the 1990s, aiming to "criticise sexism in video games". As their singer Nic Endo says: "If you want to be in control of your own life, you have to be a feminist." >>MORE

3. UK SUBS - YELLOW LEADER

The encroaching evil of technology was also highlighted by Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, who warned towards the end of the month that "the future is scary and very bad for people". He joins an unlikely bunch of tech boffins and billionaires - from scientist Steven Hawking and Microsoft founder Bill Gates to PayPal chief Elon Musk - who have been ringing alarm buzzers about the grave threat to humans from artificial intelligence. Just days before Wozniak's warning, British punk veterans UK Subs released Yellow Leader, the penultimate installment in their alphabetically-titled album series. The critically-acclaimed 18-track opus features the track "Artificial", which spits: "Artificial intelligence, robotic dream. Artificial intelligence, future scheme. Artificial intelligence, she's magnificent. Artificial intelligence, omnipotent." As leftist author Terry Pratchett, who died this month, pithily put it: "Real stupidity beats artificial intelligence every time." >>MORE

4. TROY CASSAR-DALEY - FREEDOM RIDE

Real stupidity came under attack, however, from country music star Troy Cassar-Daley this month, when he blasted coal seam gas miners on the ABC's political panel show Q&A. The farm-owning Aboriginal musician, who was on the show to promote his new album Freedom Ride, said if it came to protesting against CSG, "I'd chain myself to the bloody gate don't you worry." His new album marks the 50th anniversary of the Freedom Ride in which Aboriginal activists travelled by bus through NSW to highlight racism in rural Australia. But Cassar-Daley told Q&A that Tony Abbott's use of the phrase "lifestyle choices" in reference to remote Aboriginal communities had taken "race relations back 100 years". The muso has also been getting the original Freedom Riders up on stage and urging fans to watch John Pilger's 1986 documentary about Australia, The Secret Country, saying: "I think everyone who goes to school in Australia should see it, and I think it should be part of the curriculum." >>MORE

5. WILLIAM ELLIOTT WHITMORE - RADIUM DEATH

Another farm-owning country star hitting out at corporate poisoning is William Elliot Whitmore, whose new album, Radium Death, was inspired by the story of factory workers who contracted radium poisoning. The so-called "Radium Girls" ended up spearheading workers' rights after being made to paint watch dials with the glowing substance. The parallels with coal seam gas are strong. “It came to represent something that you’re told is good for you, something that you’re told is all right, but it’s really not and it’s the opposite,” says the Iowa-based Whitmore, who has been fascinated by mortality since his parents died when he was 16. “That could be anything in the ear of the beholder. You become aware slowly of that fact and try to stand up to whatever or whoever it is." The album's song "Civilizations" also has an enviro-bent, sneering: "Don't mind me, I'm just livin' here. Tear down the mountains, cut the forest clear. Don't mind me, I'm just livin' here." >>MORE

6. XAVIER RUDD AND THE UNITED NATIONS - NANNA

Also hitting out at coal seam gas is Australian multi-instrumentalist Xavier Rudd, who has returned with a multicultural band fittingly called the United Nations. Rudd says the song "Flag" on the new reggae-tinged album is all about "saving the Kimblerley, being anti-CSG, waving the flag for justice, coming back to country and knowing we are of the earth, not just on Earth". The influence of his new band's Aboriginal members can be heard in the song "Rainbow Serpent", which continues the theme with the words: “We make the colours of the rainbow serpent, call us in to return to its line, break the mould of the religious conditioning, return to spirit one soul at a time.” Rudd says the album's title "Nanna" was inspired by "sacred feminism". "If we're to look at the elders of that sacred feminism, it's the nannas, it's the old women, who've learnt the lessons for years," he says, adding: "People often ask me can music change the world? Well yeah, it can, but not music alone." >>MORE

7. OCEANO - ASCENDANTS

If you fancy something a bit heavier, you can't get much heavier than Chicago deathcore band Oceano, whose new album Ascendants scales new political heights, even if it doesn't offer much hope. Through gritted teeth, the song "Dead Planet" growls: "We were forewarned, signs were ignored, now we must submit to extermination! But
before the end, you’re forced to watch this world burn and transform into a dead planet! A wasteland. It’s fucking worthless!" It's a brutal vision that offers no let-up from their last album, Incisions, whose song "Slave Of Corporotocracy" blasted: "The American Dream is a fallacy! You're already dead, in compliance with normalcy. Our captors wage war with worthless paper to devalue our lives, relinquishing mind, body and soul. Servants to the machine! A slave of corporatocracy! You won't be remembered, unless humanity transcends this monetary monarchy. Open your eyes, get off your knees. Slave!" A bit different to Pharrell's "Happy", then. >>MORE

8. KILA - SUAS SIOS

Twelve years ago, US peace activist Rachel Corrie was killed by an Israeli Defence Forces armoured bulldozer in the Gaza Strip. To mark the 12th anniversary of her death on March 16, her family released a statement telling how their fight to get an investigation into the death had stalled just a month earlier when "the Israeli Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling that said Rachel was killed in a 'war activity' for which the state bears no liability under Israeli law". Just a few days later the band Kila released their new album, featuring a song named "Rachel Corrie", because the family is "still being denied justice on her death". Kila know all about colonisation. The Dublin-based band sing in the Irish language and are hailed as "breathing new life into traditional Irish music". Sinn Fein's spokesperson on Social Protection and Communities, Aengus Ó Snodaigh, is brother to three of the band members, including Colm Ó Snodaigh, who is writing a book on civil disobedience. >>MORE

9. BUENA VISTA SOCIAL CLUB - LOST AND FOUND

Buena Vista Social Club were formed to celebrate a club that existed in pre-revolutionary Cuba. Yet the band's phenomenal success, helped by an Oscar-winning documentary, has played a huge part in drawing tourists to post-revolutionary Cuba. Socialist academic Mike Gonzalez says the aura the band evoked does not represent "the real Cuba" before the revolution of 1959, nor Cuba in the modern era, but the tourist industry "enjoy the fruits of this confusion". Twelve million record sales later, the band are continuing to enjoy those fruits with the release of their third album. It's accompanied by an "Adios" tour that kicked off in Adelaide this month, led by the two surviving members. Whether the end of US sanctions means Cuba will also be saying "Adios" to its revolution is debatable. Some are hopeful, others not so, including musical duo Ibeyi - the twin daughters of late Buena Vista percussionist Anga Diaz - who recently lamented that they "don't want Cuba to be Miami". >>MORE

10. JOHN LUTHER ADAMS - THE WIND IN HIGH PLACES

Pulitzer prize-winning classical composer John Luther Adams used to be a full-time environmentalist. "But the time came when I realised that I had to choose between a life as an activist and a life as an artist," he says. "In that moment, I decided that someone else could take my place in politics; and no one could make the music I imagined but me." Now he composes music that evokes the great outdoors in his adopted home of Alaska - even designing pieces to be performed outside. A political progressive like Adams is an anomaly in the world of classical music, which is reportedly rife with sexism and sexual abuse. Helping redress that was International Women's Day on BBC Radio 3, which stressed that 40% of living classical composers are women. Jessica Duchen, the biographer of composer Gabriel Fauré, notes: "One of the earliest composers whose works are still heard today is St Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179). It’s not as if women have not always composed and performed music." >>MORE

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