Political music: 11 new albums you probably haven't heard, but should

Public Enemy's 13th studio album came out on July 13.
Tuesday, July 28, 2015

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

1. VARIOUS ARTISTS - NINA REVISITED

At the start of the month, a series of fires at Black churches across the US sparked burning questions. The fires came just days after a white supremacist carried out a mass shooting at a Black church in the hope of starting a race war. The shooting recalled 1963's bombing of a Black church in Alabama, which - along with the murder of a Black activist in Mississippi - inspired Nina Simone's 1964 protest song "Mississippi Goddamn". As the powerful new documentary What Happened, Miss Simone? recounts, it was that song that changed Simone, from a woman who only ever wanted to be the greatest-ever Black female classical pianist, into a civil rights icon. Her subsequent activism damaged her career. But if you're wondering how she still achieved such fame, try listening to this tribute album - released on July 10 to coincide with the documentary - without looking at the tracklisting. It features stellar performances by big stars, but the sole performance by Nina Simone stands out a mile. MORE>>>

2. YEARNING CURVE - THE MURDER MACHINE

One of Nina Simone's most unforgettable quotes, included in the new doco What Happened, Miss Simone?, is: "How can you be an artist and not reflect the times?" Half a century on, its enduring influence can be heard in the debut album from Irish jazz-folk-pop duo The Yearning Curve. Singer Bairbre Flood says: "I really like what Nina Simone said about an artist's duty being to reflect the times – I try to document what’s going on as best I can as a songwriter and hope that it touches people somehow. I want to cut through some of the bullshit and connect with what’s free inside us." The Yearning Curve reflect the times like an unforgiving mirror. As the band put it, the "songs are inspired by Wikileaks ('The Whistleblower'), the corporatisation of our world ('Control Inc.'), famine past and present ('Sometimes')... empathy ('Cruel', 'The Politician'), consumer effects on the Third World ('Distant Drum') and the 1913 Lockout/modern sweatshop abuses ('The Soldier')." MORE>>>

3. ASIAN DUB FOUNDATION - MORE SIGNAL, MORE NOISE

One band who never fail to reflect the political times are Asian Dub Foundation, who sound as urgent as ever on their new album. More Signal, More Noise is a re-recording of their 2013 album The Signal And The Noise, which was released only in Japan. The new album, recorded in just three days, is aptly described on the band's website as "lightning caught in a bottle" and many of the strongest songs have survived from the 2013 version. One of those, "Stand Up", seethes: "The rich are not satisfied, they want more. On top of that, think they're above the law. So debt keeps rising, bankers' bonuses multiplying. They got us into this mess, but they couldn't care less. They don't have to feel or deal with the stress." Speaking about the song with Green Left Weekly in 2013, guitarist Chandrasonic said that in progressive social movements: "The challenge is to set up efficient, powerful, but accountable organisations, which do not succumb to bureaucracy." MORE>>>

4. SLEAFORD MODS - KEY MARKETS

Someone who knows all about that bureaucracy is Jason Williamson, who only recently quit his job as a benefits advisor due to the phenomenal success of his punk indie rap duo, Sleaford Mods. New album Key Markets sticks a shiv into grinding poverty and neoliberal ideology and gives it a good twist. It was released on July 24, just a fortnight after David Cameron's re-elected British Tory government brought in even harsher austerity measures in its 2015 budget. On "Face To Faces", Williamson spits: "This daylight robbery is now so fucking hateful, it’s accepted by the vast majority, in chains years from now. Who’s that tit? Don’t matter who that tit is. He’s still with us. In our arses, in our food, in our brains and in our death. In our failure to grab hold of what fucking little we have left. We have lost the sight and in the loss of sight, we have lost our fucking minds, all right." MORE>>>

5. THE EXPLOITED - 1980-83

The pounding bass and drums that Sleaford Mods loop under their cutting lyrics come from the heyday of The Exploited, one of the biggest bands to ride out the crashing wave of British punk in the early 1980s. The rowdy Scots have a new album in the works and are back on the road after lead singer Wattie Buchan suffered a heart attack on stage last year. In the meantime, their new label Nuclear Blast has been busy reissuing their early catalogue, such as this box set of four classic albums from their early days. Ex-soldier Buchan's hatred of war sprays out in a hail of lyrical bullets on "Army Life", "Dogs Of War", "Exploited Barmy Army" and "Troops Of Tomorrow". The title track of the 1983 album Let's Start a War... (Said Maggie One Day), chides Margaret Thatcher for invading the Malvinas with the words: "Let's start a war, said Maggie one day. With the unemployed masses we'll just do away. They won't mind, like sheep they'll go. They won't suss us, they'll never know." MORE>>>

6. CLYPE - CLYPE

Occupying the same geographical and political territory as The Exploited, but sounding totally different, are fellow anti-war Scots Clype, who officially launched their album on July 23. The band mix gentle traditional Scottish folk music with challenging Latin rhythms and unusual jazz harmonies to serve up their radical politics. On "Double Trouble", pianist Simon Gall sings: "My mind's so filled with trouble, spring sunshine cannot lift my mood. With the world so full of trouble, small wonder that I brood. Small wonder that my heart aches. Small wonder that my anger bubbles against oil-greedy politicians murderous of mind, who thrive on a worldwide trouble of a war-like kind." Gall also co-hosts the informative and wide-ranging political music radio show Revolting Noise, broadcast on Scotland's ShmuFM. The shows available online include an intense special on war, which discusses the music the US uses to interrogate inmates at Guantanamo Bay. MORE>>>

7. PETE TOWNSHEND - TRUANCY: THE VERY BEST OF PETE TOWNSHEND

Guantanamo is also the unexpected subject of one of only two new songs on Pete Townshend's latest "best of" compilation. On "Guantanamo", the Who guitarist sings in a voice that sounds like it's been shredded with razor wire: "Down in Guantanamo we still got the ball and chain. That pretty piece of Cuba resolved to cause men pain. When you light up in Cuba you won't feel the same again. Down in Guantanamo still waiting for the big cigars. Been a preacher promise still guilty with your charge. There's a long road to travel for justice to make its crane. Let's bring down the gavel, let the prisoner say his name." The album was released during the month of Ramadan, which started on June 18 with President Barack Obama tweeting: "I wish Muslims across America & around the world a month blessed with the joys of family, peace & understanding. #Ramadan." To which leftist British comedian Frankie Boyle responded: "The ones you're force-feeding in Guantanamo? Or the ones you're bombing?" MORE>>>

8. JELLO BIAFRA AND THE NEW ORLEANS RAUNCH & SOUL ALLSTARS - WALK ON JINDAL'S SPLINTERS

Guantanamo School Of Medicine's last album was as powerful and disturbing as anything blasted at the inmates of Guantanamo. But their frontman, Jello Biafra, has gone off in a predictably unpredictable direction with his latest record. Biafra's friends dared the former Dead Kennedys singer to join them on stage playing soul and R'n'B as part of New Orleans Jazzfest. The recorded result is this album, whose title is a jab at Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal and a play on Dr John's song "I Walk on Gilded Splinters", which appears on the album. Jindal, a son of immigrants who is tough on immigrants, has been disgracing himself this month in the battle to be the world's biggest dork - also known as the US presidential race. The album's a blast, but if that's not enough New Orleans and Jello Biafra for you, check out Phil Andrews' Radical Marching Bands mixtape, released on July 13. It features not only bands from New Orleans, but also a cover of the Dead Kennedys' "Too Drunk To Fuck". MORE>>>

9. MINISTRY - MINISTRY TRAX! BOX

If, after all that, you still want more Jello Biafra-style posturing, check out this huge boxset from gothic industrial band Ministry, whose frontman Al Jourgensen collaborates with Biafra in the band Lard. There's no Lard in this collection, but plenty of leftist lashing from Ministry's other offshoots - including Revolting Cocks, whose song "Union Carbide (Bhopal)" continues to resonate. This month, BP paid a $US18.7 billion settlement in the US Deepwater Horizon oil spill case, prompting The Hindu newspaper to demand similar justice for victims of Union Carbide's huge gas leak in Bhopal, India. The boxset also includes "Union Carbide (West Virginia)", which refers to another of the chemical company's disasters. No word on whether Revolting Cocks plan to record "Union Carbide (Sydney)", in reference to Homebush Bay, which still displays warning signs due to the huge amounts of dioxins the company dumped there. MORE>>>

10. PUBLIC ENEMY - MAN PLANS GOD LAUGHS

Corporate pollution also leaches from the 13th studio album by rap legends Public Enemy, which was released on July 13. On "Give Peace A Damn", Chuck D raps: "Two fingers up. Mother earth screwed up. Beautiful scenery. Betray that scenery. Pray to machinery." And on "Mine Again" he spits: "Was it all worth it? Is Africa really ours? This mine got me thinking. All this death and destruction. Let's not forget about the corruption. To rob the motherland of its resources. Is Africa mine? Or the people who sit in the seat of power? Mine again, mine again, mine again, mine again." The album is less than 30 minutes long and is lacking their usual proliferation of neologisms. But Chuck D's clownish sidekick Flavor Flav shines in the wordplay of solidarity anthem "Me to We", rapping: "How do we get from me to we? Turn the M upside down and you will see." MORE>>>

11. DAVID ROVICS - HAR HAR HAR

Also offering up plenty of wordplay and solidarity anthems is David Rovics' earliest children's album, Har Har Har, which got its debut digital release on July 16. On "Bullies", the prolific singer-songwriter serves up a neat analogy for parents with the words: "This playground is run by bullies and they're all so big and mean. But this playground was made for all of us and we're gonna change this scene. Well we got that playground back, but then we looked across the street. Saw the sewage plant belching out smoke, poisoning the ground under our feet. It's giving us all asthma and the hour is getting late. So we all marched across the way and blocked the factory gate." When I played the album to my five-year-old, he protested at top volume until I turned it off, which isn't unusual. Rovics, who plays at protests worldwide, might even approve of that. Besides, all kids are different. You might have better luck. Try it. MORE>>>

Read about more political albums here.

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