10 radical new albums to banish your coronavirus blues

Here's a look back at May's political news and the best new albums that related to it. What albums would you suggest? Comment on TwitterFacebook, or email

1. REDBAIT - CAGES 

On May 1, activists in Australia weren't letting the coronavirus pandemic lockdown stop them from celebrating May Day, the international day of workers’ solidarity. To comply with physical distancing regulations, protesters who would have usually crowded together on foot instead formed a convoy of about 100 cars in Sydney. Also celebrating May Day were class war-waging US punks Redbait, who were interviewed for the occasion. "The average band does not want to tackle working class issues, as the expectation of retribution or ridicule continues," said band member Nicholas. "We say 'All power to the workers!' because we know what the working class is capable of creating." Frontperson Madeline added: "I think the apprehension of talking about class has a lot to do with Americans’ understanding of it... There is also this ambiguous 'middle class' terminology used to obscure the fact that there is no middle class. There is a working class and an owning class." LISTEN>>>

2. THE DERISION CULT - MAN ALIVE VOL. 14 

Released the same day was the new album from one-man industrial metal machine The Derision Cult, which rails against media manipulation. "As we struggle to adjust to the new realities brought on by the pandemic, we're bombarded with a media industry that has been trained on generating as much of an emotional reaction from you as possible," he said. Five days later, the media gave full coverage to US President Donald Trump touring a mask-making factory without wearing a mask, as Guns N Roses' "Live And Let Die" blared tastelessly over the factory's loudspeakers. The next day, Guns N Roses singer Axl Rose picked a fight with Trump's Treasury Secretary, Steven Mnuchin, on Twitter. Sparking a media frenzy, Mnuchin responded by asking "What have you done for the country lately?" and accidentally attaching an emoji of the flag of Liberia - possibly the worst country to invoke US patriotism as it was founded by US slaves and is a hotbed of protest music. LISTEN>>>

3. THE 1975 - NOTES ON A CONDITIONAL FORM 

Greta Thunberg, the climate-protesting teenager often bullied by Trump on Twitter, opens the new genre-hopping album from British band The 1975, released on May 22. "We have to stop our emissions of greenhouse gases," she says, over the band's sombre-sounding introduction. "And either we do that, or we don't. You say that nothing in life is black or white. But that is a lie, a very dangerous lie. Either we prevent 1.5 degrees of warming, or we don't. Either we avoid setting off that irreversible chain reaction beyond human control, or we don't. Either we choose to go on as our civilisation, or we don't. That is as black or white as it gets. Because there are no grey areas when it comes to survival." Talking about the collaboration, the band's frontperson, Matty Healy, said: "Greta has a lot of reach, but I really wanted to see her exist formally in pop culture, not just as an anecdote of somebody." MORE>>>

4. PUSSY RIOT - HOЖ / KNIFE

Also praising Thunberg were Russian feminist punks Pussy Riot, as they talked about their poppy new EP, released the same day as The 1975's album. "If you still feel like it’s useful for you to fight against something, then you fight against certain ideas and praxes and methods," said the band's Nadya Tolokonnikova. "I think people like Greta Thunberg really understand that. She doesn’t struggle much against certain personas – she mentions them, but for her the fight is about saving the planet and fighting against corporations who are burning our Earth. I think that’s the approach for the activism of the future." Their new EP  tells two stories: one about a woman fighting back against an abusive partner, and another in which the heroine kills a man who tries to rape her. Both are inspired by a wider conversation about domestic violence in Russia, after a law passed in 2017 that reduced sentences for domestic violence provoked backlash and a debate about legislation. MORE>>>    

5. MIIESHA - NYAARINGU 

Also fighting against corporations who are burning the Earth was deejay Air Texture, whose electronic record label Place released two charity compilations on May 15 for the indigenous peoples of Ecuador and Canada battling against oil exploration. On the same day, Native American artist Nahko released his new environmentally-focused album, saying: "Honour the Earth, the Mother comes first, live in a good way for her." A fortnight later, soul singer Miiesha, from the remote Aboriginal community of Woorabinda, released her new album, which samples former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott saying Aboriginal people should not be supported for making the "lifestyle choice" of staying on their own land. It came days after mining company Rio Tinto blasted a 46,000-year-old Aboriginal site to expand an iron ore mine, while First Nations inmates, making up 28% of prisoners despite making up only 2% of the population, were put at a disproportionate risk of catching COVID-19. MORE>>> 

6. ANDY PAINE - THE POLITICS OF POSSIBILITY 

As logging companies threatened koala habitats that were still recovering from last summer's bushfires, Australian protest singer and writer Andy Paine released a new album on May 2 that pays tribute to all the activists fighting back. On "Forest Ferals", he sings: "Well you've heard about koalas, about kangaroos, about the frill-necked lizard, the wombat and emu, about the deadly snakes, spiders and crocodiles, now let me tell you about another legend of Aussie wildlife. The forest feral leaps from tree to tree, sneaking through the bush at night stealthily, with tree-sit tripod or lock-on pipe, they're the foe of progress, but friend of the wild. The forest feral doesn't seem to wash, the layer of dirt acts as camouflage. Look closely, you'll see its distinctive marks of piercings, patches and naturally formed dreadlocks." The album's unvarnished production will make you feel you are right there with Paine as he hitches to protest sites all over the country. LISTEN>>> 

7. RYAN HARVEY - YOU HAVE NO COUNTRY 

US singer-songwriter Ryan Harvey's production may be a little more polished, but his politics are no less raw than Paine's as he also sings about hitching all over his home country on his new album, released on May 12. On "My Country" the folk-punk artist sings: "Well this is my country, a trail of tears that never stopped expanding, a bloody legacy of false promises and dreams deferred by hatred. I learn my history my way, with my thumb out on the highway." And on the album's closing song, the long-time anti-war activist laments: "I hate seeing my taxes in the Pentagon's hands, but I'd gladly throw my share in for a real healthcare plan. I can envision it - I hope I see it some day. They've got soldiers in Afghanistan and soldiers in Iraq, but they can't afford to fix up these long-abandoned blocks. I can envision it - I hope I see it some day." Nine days after the album came out, Trump decided to withdraw from another arms-control pact with Russia. LISTEN>>>

8. JOEL HARRISON - AMERICA AT WAR 

Documenting a long, sorry history of such moves is US jazz artist Joel Harrison with his new big band album, America At War, released just weeks earlier. "The United States has been in the midst of a foreign military engagement nearly every year since composer Joel Harrison's birth in 1957," say the album's liner notes. "This endless state of war has had lasting impacts on the country’s wellbeing, and far reaching repercussions on generations of soldiers and their families." The musician says he was inspired to write the brooding “My Father In Nagasaki” by the story of his father being one of the first two Americans to reach the demolished Japanese city after the US dropped a nuclear bomb on it. The album came as new data from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute showed total world military spending rose to US$1.9 trillion ($2.9 trillion) in 2019, an increase of 3.6% from 2018 and the largest annual growth in spending since 2010. LISTEN>>> 

9. STEVE EARLE - GHOSTS OF WEST VIRGINIA 

As the coal-loving Trump administration continued to wage its wars for resources against Iran and Venezuela, US country rocker Steve Earle released his new album about a coal mining accident that devastated a US community. Earle, who has defiantly released many radical leftist records, said this time he was aiming to bridge the political divide. “I thought that given the way things are now, it was maybe my responsibility to make a record that spoke to and for people who didn’t vote the way that I did,” he said. “One of the dangers that we’re in is if people like me keep thinking that everyone who voted for Trump is a racist or an asshole, then we’re fucked, because it’s simply not true... We need to learn how to communicate with each other. My involvement in this project is my little contribution to that effort.” The album came as Australia's government made a renewed push to pour billions more dollars into unproven "clean coal" technology. LISTEN>>> 

10. ZESHAN B - MELISMATIC 

In India, which is one of Australia's biggest coal customers, Prime Minister Narendra Modi continued to incite racist hatred against Muslims, by claiming they were responsible for the COVID-19 outbreak. On May 15, US-based Muslim Indian soul singing sensation Zeshan B released his new album, which skewers such racism. "Brown people all over the world have by and large been historically subjugated to harsh injustices (colonialism, slavery, police brutality, disenfranchisement, war crimes, genocide)," he said. "My days are spent in perpetual anxiety as the world around me is collapsing. This is compounded tenfold when I stay up worried about my wife's health as she is working overnight shifts fighting on the front lines on the trenches of COVID in her capacity as a doctor." Two weeks later, as the US death toll from COVID-19 hit 100,000, riots broke out after police killed another black man, prompting Trump to tweet: "When the looting starts, the shooting starts." LISTEN>>>


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 concept album about the media hailed as "edgy, daring and new". You can download the deluxe version free for a limited time here.

Stream our political albums playlist on Spotify.

Read about more political albums here.

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