Ten new political albums worth a listen - April 2015

Emcee Killa called his album Zapatista to "empower".
Saturday, April 25, 2015

Here's this month's radical record round-up, including a response to the "Reclaim Australia" rallies. What album, or albums, would you suggest? Comment below, on Twitter or Facebook.

1. SUPER BEST FRIENDS
- STATUS UPDATES

On April 4, Australian politics reached a fresh low as anti-Islamic "Reclaim Australia" rallies took place up and down the country. The next day, Super Best Friends posted a Facebook status update reading: "Like any other brand capitalising on idiots, we thought in light of the Reclaim Australia Rally - Australia wide it'd be a good time to promote our product: 'Dog Whistling'." The song declares: "I know a place where people came on boats, unauthorised and largely unopposed, they took it all from the people here first, but now they fail to see the irony." The rest of the album, which ranges from the spikiest indie to the grittiest grunge, is equally powerful. As for the album's title, the band's Johnny Barrington says: "Status Updates came about because each song could easily be a rant on social media. My friends on Facebook know I like a good rant, so already having a rep as a self-righteous wanker online, I thought it was a fitting name for a punk record." >>MORE

2. VARIOUS ARTISTS - SHE WHO ROCKS

On April 9, the city of Boston, Massachusetts, announced that it was declaring that day "Riot Grrrl Day" in honour of Kathleen Hanna, who was performing a lecture in the city that evening. As lead singer for Bikini Kill, Hanna pioneered the fiercely feminist Riot Grrrl scene in the early 1990s, and is still going strong with her band The Julie Ruin. "The fact that people still need feminist punk is kind of sad," she said recently. "But I was under no illusions that sexism was gonna end." Timely, then, that the day after "Riot Grrrl Day", April 10, Australian label Social Family Records released the compilation She Who Rocks, "spanning four decades of women who rock their own damn way". For every album sold, $1 will be donated to the Australian Cervical Cancer Foundation and a national tour is kicking off from May 22, featuring The Superjesus and The Baby Animals. >>MORE

3. ESME PATTERSON - WOMAN TO WOMAN

Also giving women a much-needed voice is Denver "folk n roll" singer Esme Patterson, who has released an album in which the female characters sung about in popular hits get a chance to respond. Referencing Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean" and Dolly Parton's "Jolene", Patterson says: "I had to ask myself: how would you feel if a man slept with you, got you pregnant and then said: 'You are not my lover' and 'The kid is not my son'? The Billie Jean I have created in 'What Do You Call a Woman?' is angry as hell and rightfully so. And how would I feel if a woman called me up saying that her boyfriend, a guy that to me seems like a two-timer and a creep, is obsessed with me and would I please not steal him from her? In 'Never Chase a Man', my Jolene tells Dolly’s character that she deserves better and she should find a man that can return her love." It's a great concept for an album, but as Green Left Weekly's Carlo Sands has pointed out, "what Esme Patterson is doing is not new". >>MORE

4. GOOD RIDDANCE - PEACE IN OUR TIME

Also hitting out at "small-minded misogynists" are punk veterans Good Riddance, whose first album in nine years is being compared to their previous classics like 1996's A Comprehensive Guide to Moderne Rebellion and 1998's Ballads from the Revolution. The "misogynists" line comes in "Teachable Moments", whose equally scathing condemnation of "xenophobic hypocrites" could just as easily be applied to the "Reclaim Australia" rallies: "Any xenophobic hypocrites and small-minded misogynists - you're afraid, you are afraid. It's all right, there are those too slow to get along, keep twisting their morality with sin. Remember life's too short to waste on them and we're too smart to just condemn. We're afraid, we are afraid, now if we could only give them something to believe, it's anybody's guess why some cling to prejudice - their fear of what they do not understand, now there's nothing left but common sense to wash away intolerance and realise that love is all the same." >>MORE

5. AGNOSTIC FRONT - THE AMERICAN DREAM DIED

With all the punk pedigree of Good Riddance, New York hardcore legends Agnostic Front also came bouncing back this month with their unambiguously titled 11th album, The American Dream Died. In his characteristic yelp, Cuban-born frontman Roger Miret pulls no punches as he tackles everything from government and corporate control to police brutality and the abuse of military veterans. As he puts it: "From day one we’ve been singing about being anti-war, anti-society, anti-establishment. We fight oppression and overcome oppression. We’re a people’s band. There is so much injustice, and our rights are being taken away from us. My theory is 20 years from now they’re going to look at the Constitution and not know what the fuck it is." The song titles say it all: "Police Violence", "Only In America", "Enough Is Enough", "Social Justice, "No War Fuck You" and "Attack!". >>MORE

6. THE STAPLE SINGERS - FREEDOM HIGHWAY COMPLETE

As with The American Dream Died, this album also serves as a reminder that, in reality, the US can be more like a nightmare. Released on the 50th anniversary of its April 9, 1965, recording, this expanded reissue captures gospel group The Staple Singers performing at Chicago's New Nazareth church during a tense time in the struggle for civil rights. The performance came less than three weeks after the historic African-American voting rights march from Selma to Birmingham, Alabama, and just over a month after “Bloody Sunday”, when state troopers violently attacked participants during the first attempt at the march. With a poignant speech, band leader Pops dedicates the song "Freedom Highway" to the marchers. Last year's Oprah Winfrey-backed Oscar-winning film about the march, Selma, had a dreamy Hollywood ending, with African-Americans winning the right to vote. Unmentioned was the nightmarish reality that today, the wholesale blocking of their votes continues unabated. >>MORE

7. THE REAL McKENZIES - RATS IN THE BURLAP

More ballot box blues are addressed by Vancouver-based Scottish expats The Real McKenzies, whose new album features "Yes", a song about last year's Scottish referendum. "It's painfully apparent the skulduggery and cheap tricks that once again played out," says Glasgow-born vocalist Paul McKenzie. "We as the Real McKenzies wish to let our fans and the world know how we stand on this. Scotland belongs to the Scottish... period.” The rollicking new album was released this month as Scotland was gearing up for Britain's national election, which is set to reveal how many Scottish voters New Labour alienated with its "No" recommendation in the referendum. As the Scottish National Party's Tommy Sheppard puts it: "This election is not about independence, although the results may advance the conditions in which that question can be asked again... Our aim is not to set ourselves apart from the people of Britain, but to set them an example. Let England follow where Scotland leads." >>MORE

8. LUCKY LUKE - WHICHWAY

Mount Isa in Queensland is set to close its infamous smelter by 2020, slashing about 1000 jobs. One solution might be to retrain those workers for jobs in the renewable energy industry. Instead, the city's business lobby group announced this month that it was pushing for a transition to uranium mining. The Queensland government's Uranium Mining Implementation Committee is even spruiking opportunities for Indigenous Queenslanders. Enter local Indigenous rapper Lucky Luke, whose catchy, clear-voiced debut album is coincidentally titled Whichway. On the sardonic track "1Day" he raps: "Imagine if the world turned to us to take care of the land. Imagine if this country was run by a brotherman. Imagine living in a world without material possessions. Imagine schools giving kids cultural lessons. Imagine if we had no need for prison and didn't worry about pollution when we went fishing." The album cover's trick photography shows him holding the smelter like a didgeridoo. >>MORE

9. EMCEE KILLA - ZAPATISTA

On April 5, the Zapatista Army of National Liberation announced it was holding an international seminar in Chiapas titled "Critical Thinking in the Face of the Capitalist Hydra". Two days later, London-based critical thinker Emcee Killa released his latest anti-capitalist long player, titled Zapatista. He says he used the name of the indigenous revolutionary group in Mexico as "a form of empowerment, which is what the album aims to do throughout, empower". It's a strong successor to his 2009 album, Mind Of A Tehranist, which referenced his Iranian mother, who has an OBE for her humanitarian work in war-torn Iraq. His writing skills come partly from his father, the British investigative journalist Nick Fielding. "He’s had a huge influence on me as he taught me to always have substance to what I say," the rapper tells Green Left Weekly. "I think I have my own creativity but he is very good at keeping me in line if my mind wanders." >>MORE

10. AKALA - KNOWLEDGE IS POWER VOLUME 2

Also holding it down for London-based lyricists is British-Jamaican rapper Akala, who is back firing on all cylinders with his fifth album, Knowledge Is Power Volume 2. The opening track, "Mr Fire In The Booth", references his legendary sessions for BBC Radio 1Xtra's "Fire In The Booth", in which emcees are let loose with just a backing track and a microphone. Akala's sessions have notched up millions of views. He's an unusual character, who is as well known for his lectures comparing hip-hop to the iambic pentameter of Shakespeare as he is for his own music. With an unusual gift for mathematics, he pursued a career as a soccer player, then as a restaurant manager, before following in the footsteps of his R'n'B star sister, Ms Dynamite, by entering the music world professionally. The highlight of the new album is lead single "Murder Runs The Globe", which advises: "You wanna commit murder, but not end up in cuffs? You gotta make it to the Premier League - a thousand murders plus." >>MORE

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