Ten of 2016’s best political albums

A. B. Original.
A. B. Original.

As a dramatic and sometimes disturbing year comes to a close, Green Left Weekly’s Mat Ward, who provides new lists of political music each month, offers his top 10 political albums of the year.

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1. A.B. Original - Reclaim Australia

Because the lyrics show how Aboriginal hip-hop still shits all over white Australian hip-hop.

On November 5, activists in Melbourne rallied to welcome recently released refugees into the community. They were met by protesters from Reclaim Australia, who want to “reclaim” the country from Muslims — despite the fact that Muslims were heretrading peacefully with the Aboriginal people, way before whites arrived with their land-stealing genocide.

Enter Aboriginal rappers Briggs and Trials with their supergroup A.B. Original, whose debut album, Reclaim Australia, reclaims the title for the only people that could legitimately use it. Blending righteous anger with super-slick production and laugh-out-loud humour, the album has been widely acclaimed.

Yet even when Australians are praising it, some still don’t seem to get it, saying it’s about “past atrocities”, when the atrocities are still going on. If you really want to gauge how strong the album is, just compare its lyrics with those of the white Australian hip-hop albums that topped the charts in recent weeks. 

2. Anohni - Hopelessness

Because the music is of such stupendous quality that the mainstream media couldn't ignore its radical politics.

In May, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration revealed a new threshold — the first time temperature records had been broken for 12 months in a row. A fitting time, then, for Anohni to release her new album, which featured the sublimely sarcastic “4 Degrees”.

“I wanna burn the sky, I wanna burn the breeze,” she sang. “I wanna see the animals die in the trees. Oh let’s go, let’s go, it’s only 4 degrees.”

Anohni said she wrote the album, which features the similarly nihilistic “Drone Bomb Me”, to support activists. Yet the best thing about it was that it was such high quality that the corporate media couldn't ignore it. The Guardian even called it “the most profound protest record in decades”.

3. MIA – Aim

Because she's still innovating musically and politically, despite this being supposedly her last album.

At the start of September, more than 60 people rallied in Melbourne to support a protester found guilty after she refused to take her seat on a Qantas plane in which a Tamil asylum seeker was being deported. The rally came just days after another Tamil refugee was deported, adding to scores in the previous few months.

A few days later, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull promoted Australia’s $9.6 billion boat-stopping policies at a world summit for refugees.

All of which was the backdrop for the release of the latest — and supposedly last — album by rapping Tamil refugee MIA, whose lead single “Borders” tackled anti-asylum seeker hysteria. “It blows my mind that these people trying to claim asylum in Australia can be sent back to their country,” she said.

4. The Interrupters - Say It Out Loud

Because they are such fun. Think of them as a female-fronted version of their label bosses, legendary ska-punks Rancid.

Ridiculing the media were ska funsters The Interrupters, whose album out on June 24 featured the song “Media Sensation”. Over the kind of fast-paced hooks that drove the whole album, they sang: “They keep you suspended in fear, until your freedoms disappear ... That’s fine, the sheep are blind, shepherds indoctrinate the minds of the masses, poor and middle classes operating like a bunch of fascists.”

5. JPEGMAFIA - The 2nd Amendment

Because he treats US politics the way it should be treated - one giant piss-take - and breaks new musical ground as he does it.

The late satirical musician Frank Zappa once said: “Politics is the entertainment division of the military industrial complex.” No artist today has grasped that concept better than piss-taking rapper JPEGMAFIA.

On July 4, he released an album named after the right to bear arms that aimed to be “the soundtrack for the presidential election”. In the video for lead single “I Might Vote For Donald Trump”, he and fellow Baltimore rapper Freaky cruised through a Trump-voting neighbourhood as rich white men watched from behind lace curtains with guns drawn.

“The whole point of the song is like ‘We might just vote for Donald Trump because it shouldn’t be legal to vote for him in the first place’,” said JPEGMAFIA.

Amid all Trump's race-baiting, cops were filmed killing Black men Alton Sterling and Philando Castile in the two days after the album's release. 

6. JS Aurelius - Goofin' Drones

Because it was the most original and illuminating political album of the year, composed using drone-hacking software.

JS Aurelius took the software that hackers use to bring down pilotless aircraft in a practice known as “spoofing drones” and used it to make an album called Goofin’ Drones. The results were eerily evocative — clean, clinical, mechanical whines followed by hellish explosions of white noise.

If nothing else, it should alert a wider audience to the fact that there is a way to fight back against Barack Obama’s seemingly unstoppable drone wars.

7. Kate Tempest - Let Them Eat Chaos

Because the electronic music backing is as idiosyncratic as her celebrated poetry, which gets ever more political.

Also addressing Earth-destroying humans was British poet Kate Tempest, whose new book and album was a call to “mend the broken home of our own planet while we still have time”.

As revered in literary circles as she is in the music world, the poet hit headlines when she called out Australian racism at a literary festival this year. She also references Indigenous genocide on the album, which delved even deeper, lyrically and musically, than her previous efforts.

“Europe Is Lost” offers a tantalising snippet of the lyrics: “The water level’s rising! The water level’s rising! The animals, the elephants, the polar bears are dying! Stop crying, start buying.”

8. Imany - The Wrong Kind Of War

Because this French African expat is so damn catchy that her radical politics managed to top the charts.

Like the British, France’s colonists were also complaining in August about being colonised. French Prime Minister Manuel Valls defended a ban on burkinis on August 25, saying the full-body Muslim swimsuit represented a “battle of cultures”.

The next day, French former model Imany — whose family come from Comoros, one of the many Muslim nations colonised by France — released her new album.

On “There Were Tears”, the chart-topping soulster sang: “Freedom fighters, here I am, you can knock on my door. Don’t stop till some hearts are beating. Don’t stop fighting while they keep on lying.”

Imany, whose name means “faith” in Arabic, promoted the album with pictures of her standing in front of a billboard for the Black Panthers. Her family’s home country now holds the depressing title of suffering the worst inequality in the world.

9. Peter Garrett - A Version Of Now

Because Garrett's political music is so much more uncompromising (and better) than his political career, his music deserves consideration.

Boasting far more musical kudos than indie-loving outgoing British PM David Cameron was Midnight Oil frontman Peter Garrett, who put his controversial political career behind him to return to what he does best, releasing an effortlessly catchy debut solo album on July 15.

Of Garrett’s time as a federal Labor minister, former Greens leader Bob Brown expressed the views of many that the protest signer had “sold out”. Brown is unlikely to level the same criticism at Indigenous country star and sometime Greens candidate Warren H Williams, who made history in July with his new album.

10. A Tribe Called Red — We Are The Halluci Nation

Because their world-conquering mix of electronica and Native American pow-wow music is like nothing else on the planet.

Speaking up for the colonised was the dying frontman of beloved Canadian band The Tragically Hip, who implored tragically hip Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to do more for First Nations people as he watched the band's farewell concert this year.

Weeks later, groundbreaking First Nations electronica outfit A Tribe Called Red released their latest dancefloor-rocking mashup of tribal wails and stuttering bass-heavy beats, which paints a bleak picture in its moments of reflection.

“How I Feel” laments: “I feel the tears and aggression, fears and depression woven in society from years of oppression.”

The album was released as Indigenous activists were attacked while protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline south of Canada. At the end of September, Grand Chief Stewart Phillip used an anti-royal protest to point out how little the pipeline-loving Trudeau had done for First Nations people — perhaps not surprising, since doing so would reverse the policies of the Prime Minister’s father.