10 surprisingly good new protest albums you've got to hear

April 27, 2024
Protest albums from April 2024

Do you think there's no good protest music these days? So did I, until I started looking for it. The truth is, it’s always been out there, but it's sometimes just a bit difficult to find. Every month, I search it out, listen to it all, then round up the best of it that relates to that month’s political news. Here’s the round-up for April 2024.


At the start of April, New Scientist reported an increase in climate anxiety among young people, sparking similar articles even in the business media. A week later, US musician Downupright released their unique concept album inspired by such feelings. The flawless record about the apocalypse comprises 60 songs, each 60 seconds long, across 60 genres. Asked about it, they told Green Left: "The doom angle came about as an anxiety thing. I was trying to express our deep malaise about the world ending in some new and interesting way every time you read the news. There are literally dozens of ways to approach it. That's when I realised that I could sort them out by genre, and it all clicked. I didn't want 60 songs about climate change. In the chiptune track the AI takes over. In the industrial metal track it's all bombs and war. In the black metal song, God and Satan destroy the earth." LISTEN>>>


Also not limiting herself to climate change is Ekko Astral singer Jael Holzman, despite her day job as a climate reporter for ProPublica. On her experimental punk band's debut album, she tackles a plethora of issues, from internet-induced anxiety to her life as a trans woman and the inescapabe hypocrisies of capitalist society. “She’s got a pair of cheetah print pink pumps made by federal prisoners," she sings on “on brand”. "She likes to wear ’em to the seventies club, wax nostalgic about racism.” Waxing nostalgic about racism in a different way was billionaire pop star Taylor Swift on her new album, released days later. "My friends used to play a game where we would pick a decade we wished we could live in instead of this," she sings. "I'd say the 1830s but without all the racists." The lyric was slammed by US media, who pointed to her past baiting of racist ex-president Donald Trump. LISTEN>>>


Joining in the Trump-baiting are Seattle grunge music icons Pearl Jam on their new album, released on April 19. Discussing its song "Wreckage", singer Eddie Vedder said of the Republican Party's presumptive presidential nominee: "There is a guy in the United States who is still saying he didn’t lose an election, and people are reverberating and amplifying that message as if it is true. Trump is desperate. I don’t think there has ever been a candidate more desperate to win, just to keep himself out of prison and to avoid bankruptcy." Four days later, The Washington Post reported that Trump kept nodding off during his many court appearances, "jerking awake like a college sophomore who partied too late" when nudged. "The joke on social media was that he wasn’t nodding off - just 'resisting a rest' (har har)," said The Washington Post. "Stephen Colbert deemed it a 'white power nap' on The Late Show." LISTEN>>>  


Evidently more woke than Trump is US folk musician Aoife O'Donovan, whose new album pays tribute to the suffragettes who fought for women's voting rights. "All My Friends wrestles with questions of what has - and hasn’t - changed for American women in the 100 years since gaining the right to vote," she said. It came as Trump tried to distance himself from the Republicans' anti-abortion policies, which have turned politics back decades, hurt the party in the polls, and also inspired protest music such as US band Vial's new pro-abortion rights album. Undeterred, Trump supporters were sharing footage of themselves punching women in the street on social media, The New York Times reported on April 4. Such misogyny was reaching increasingly pathetic levels in Australia, where a spate of slayings meant that by April 25, one woman had been violently killed every four days since the start of the year. LISTEN>>>


Used to such trauma are Australia's Aboriginal people, as shown on the new album by acclaimed Indigenous musician Emma Donovan, released on April 19. “No rest till this voice is heard," she sings on its title track, "until the day that we see change, then I'll keep singing my people's pain." Discussing the country-music inspired album, the Gumbayngirr, Dhungutti and Yamatji soul singer said: “It feels like history is repeating itself because we are still singing about issues that are as relevant today in this country as they were back then. I wanted to acknowledge how tiring and hard this can be.” The album came as Indigenous children were kept in lockdown as a fire spread through Darwin's Don Dale prison, protests were held against such jailings in Western Australia, and Aboriginal people expressed outrage at fracking being approved by the Labor government in the Northern Territory. LISTEN>>>   


Renowned Aboriginal activist Gary Foley is cited by Melbourne rockers Mammal on their new album's latest single "Agree To Disagree", whose video was debuted by British heavy metal bible Kerrang on April 19. Discussing the song, singer Ezekiel Ox said: "It’s our response to people who support bombing kids and genocide, wherever it is happening. Mammal doesn’t care what ice-cream flavour you like, or how you choose to dress. But we do take issue with those who are apologists for apartheid, occupation and war criminals. We say what we want, how we want and play loud and proud. We believe that at its best, rock’n’roll is a form of rebellion. Punters know when they come to the show that we give a shit, about the music, about them, about their schools and unis, their hospitals and parks, their housing situation. We always punch up, and we aren’t pulling the ladder up behind us.” LISTEN>>>   

7. SOLE - VAULT 1312

Taking a similarly uncompromising approach was Australian Greens senator Nick McKim on April 16. During an inquiry into supermarkets' profit gouging amid a cost-of-living crisis, he threatened Woolworths CEO Brad Banducci with jail for refusing to answer questions. Such "greedflation" - as companies worldwide increase their prices above the rate of inflation - is slammed by US rapper Sole on his new album, released on April 26. "You say it's inflation, it's life under the algorithm," he seethes on "The Secret". "They'll learn to push their prices as high as we'll let them." The track closes an album that's full of such financially astute observations that stand in sharp contrast to most rappers' money-worshipping mantras and garbled gibberish. As Sole puts it in one verse: "I ain't no mumble rapper." The production and backing music, by hip-hop hitmaker and long-time Green Left reader DJ Pain 1, slaps. LISTEN>>>    


Inflation is also in the crosshairs of radical British rock-rap duo Bob Vylan on their new album, released on April 5. Discussing one of its singles, Bobby Vylan said: “‘Hunger Games’ is like a rallying cry for everybody that’s sick of suffering due to this economic crisis that we’re living with. ‘Cost of living crisis’ makes it sound neat and tidy, but it’s a direct result of years of austerity, politicians that prioritise their selfish desires before the good of the country and a capitalist system that is allowing landlords and big companies to operate unchecked.” He takes direct aim at those landlords on "GYAG", rapping: “Landlord just raised your rent? Mate, get yourself a gun." Such bitter lyrics come from dealing with a cruel property owner when he was “a baby with a baby” in dangerous housing. “My partner got pneumonia during the pregnancy because of it," he said. "And he just didn’t care.” LISTEN>>>  


Ruthless landlords are a recurring target of US protest singer David Rovics, who released his new album on April 19. On it, he cites the same politics borne amid British poverty as Bob Vylan. On "Smashing Elbit Systems" he praises activists' fight to close an Israel-supplying weapons factory in Oldham, a grim satellite of Manchester the BBC called "the most deprived town in England" - and which happens to be the place I was born and raised. "The factory in Oldham had to close its gate," he sings. "And the muralists in Palestine said that's smashing great. All around the country, hammers being swung, showing civil disobedience is stronger than the tongue. Taking action here so the weapons go nowhere, so they don't get sent to the IOF, because we know what they'll do there." The album came after British and Australian aid workers were killed by an Israeli army armed partly by Britain and Australia. LISTEN>>> 


Oldham is also infamous for its race riots, the likes of which are skewered on the new album by revered British reggae stalwarts Black Roots, released on April 12. The album traces Black Britons' African roots and its closing track, "Windrush", addresses the Windrush generation, who migrated to Britain from Commonwealth countries between 1948 and 1973. Despite legal entitlement to stay, many faced job losses, denial of services, removal and the kind of violent racism they encountered in Oldham. A fortnight after the album's release, the country's British-Indian Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, passed long-contested and controversial legislation forcing asylum seekers to be deported to Rwanda in Africa. The controversial CEO of budget airline Ryanair, Michael O'Leary, responded by saying his company would "happily" supply flights for the deportations, despite the United Nations deeming them illegal. LISTEN>>> 

[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. Mat Ward's latest single is Your Vote's A Joke.]

Want to get this column every month? Just email matwardmusic@gmail.com and I’ll add you to my monthly email that includes a link to this column here at Green LeftYes, I want to read this column every month.

Read about more political albums.

Stream our new “Best protest songs of 2024” playlist on Spotify. This replaces the previous “Political albums” playlist, that was getting too big at more than 700 albums.


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