Words by Alexander Webb
Last week I had an ugly day at work.
After the most uninspirational day, I felt mentally and physically drained. It was “one of those days”.
When I finally left work, I hopped in my car, turned over the ignition, and started playing one of my favourite albums so I could whisk myself away into blissful solitude.
Music does this to me. It transports me into a different headspace. It ignites my motivation. It provides me with audio companionship.
Knowing the impacts music has on me, I decided to write this article (with some motivation through audio companionship!). So, here are nine albums to help inspire you to change the world like you know you can!
1. Wander/Wonder – Balam Acab
Wander/Wonder is an album that sits by itself in time and space. Ethereal and scintillating, Balam Acab composed an album of simple beauty. Wander/Wonder is difficult to define as an album, but was popular within the ‘witch house’ internet genre a few years ago. However, the album quite specifically moves beyond anything within that genre, instead developing an atmophere of ambience, clarity and even prettiness throughout the album, as opposed to the dark aesthetics of its witch house counterparts. Turn off to the world and become enraptured by Wander/Wonder.
2. What’s Going On – Marvin Gaye
The title track to Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On is a protest song that has lived through the ages. Becoming the first of its kind within the soul genre, What’s Going on is an album packed with protest songs aimed at challenging the establishment. Gaye discusses the topics of violence and the Vietnam War, continuing to prove relevant in the context of continued warfare throughout the world’s regions today. What’s Going On not only maintains its political relevance, but its sound remains quite stunning. While the album has enjoyed lasting relevance in the United States, we Australians can benefit from placing the album on its deserved and meaningful pedestal.
3. To Pimp a Butterfly – Kendrick Lamar
Inspired by the early political music genius of Gaye, Kendrick Lamar crafted one of the best album of our generation. Not only because of its hooks and, at times, its abrasiveness, but because of how Lamar used his elevated voice within the popular consciousness to speak of issues of political significance, such as how society views race, the role of faith, and fame. Don’t be put off this album by how “King Kunta” is overplayed out of context at those rubbish house parties, the album is a lyrically dense and provocative experience that will inspire you to speak up and speak out.
4. Kala – M.I.A.
Kala is cutting-edge politically and sonically. For the purposes of production, M.I.A. (Maya Arulprahasam) transported herself around the globe, allowing her to to meld influences from India, Jamaica, Angola, and even Indigenous Australia in “Mange Pickle Down the River”, with hip-hop, punk, soca, and a miscellany of other styles. M.I.A.’s intention: to produce an aesthetically challenging album that discusses themes of the Global South such as power, gender, pride, and violence. The voice of M.I.A., a Sri Lankan refugee to the UK, has continued to have enduring relevance through igniting political discussion, notably in the context of the global refugee crisis represented in her 2015 “Borders” music video. Listen beyond “Paper Planes”, the iconically popular single of your childhood, and sink yourself into Kala’s experimental and compulsive sound.
5. HOPELESSNESS – ANOHNI
Firstly, ANOHNI – previously of Antony and the Johnsons fame – has a soul-crushing voice. With a compelling discography to date, ANOHNI took an artistic turn with HOPELESSNESS by producing an album of electronic dance tracks which speak of protest in the post-9/11 era. The undeniable highlight of the album is “Drone Bomb Me”, a song written from the perspective of a young girl who falls victim to a targeted killing (plus, Naomi Campbell does an extraordinarily powerful job of lipsyncing in the song’s music video). ANOHNI is angelic, politically woke, and utterly genius
6. Owning My Masters: The Rhetorics of Rhymes & Revolutions – A.D. Carson
Take your iTunes off shuffle and tune into The Rhetorics of Rhymes & Revolutions, a 34-song album by PhD candidate, A.D. Carson, rapped as a part of his doctoral dissertation. The central thesis that underpins his work is: “Are certain voices treated differently?”, specifically, black voices. In his discussion of the manner in which black voices are embodied, contextualised and appropriated throughout the album, A.D. Carson provides some astounding political commentary paired with some interesting samples to help explain his thesis. Trying to get through my studies is hard enough, but knowing that someone can produce such high quality, groundbreaking work within academia is highly motivational.
7. Heaven and Earth – Kamasi Washington
Kamasi Washington released The Epic in 2015 to high critical acclaim, becoming one of the most significant and compelling jazz albums in recent years. Released only a few weeks ago, Heaven and Earth extends on Washington’s established sound, engulfing the listener in the space that occupies the mind-body dualism and creating a catharsis. What makes Washington’s work even more epic is its length, clocking in at over 2-and-a-half hours. Embodied within the jazz tradition, Heaven and Earth is determined to challenge the foundations of jazz, providing an ambitious and sprawling album that will give you the clarity to persevere and transcend the BS.
8. Black Terry Cat – Xenia Rubinos
With a pinch of St. Vincent and a touch of Esperanza Spalding, Xenia Rubinos’ Black Terry Cat is unique fusion record that stretches the limits of soul, rock, funk and art. Black Terry Cat is a dense exploration of intersectional female identity which was released in 2016 in the same context Beyonce and Solange produced groundbreaking releases on similar topics. As such, it is no surprise that Rubinos was inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement and understanding the performance of identity throughout the album. The highlight of this album is “Black Stars” which speaks of the period in Rubinos’ life when she cared for her dying father who would, with time, become a black star in the night sky continuing to shine post-mortem. Awkward, disjointed, colourful, and motivating, Rubinos’ album will challenge you.
9. Horses – Patti Smith
Finally, I had to indulge in this album, a classic record secured within the rock history canon as central to the early punk era in the 70s. Before anything else, Patti Smith is a poet. Inspired by William Blake and Arthur Rimbaud, the album opens with the assertive line “Jesus died for somebody’s sins but not mine” and ends with “I think it’s sad, it’s much too bad, that our friends can’t be with us today”. In the space in between, Smith crafts a raw, furious, and quite rapturous album that is packed with a powerful and evocative lyricism. An album that has remained a starting place in music for strong, punk women, Horses will help you find your voice.
So, the next time you’ve had an ugly day at work, allow Patti Smith rock your world. Or, alternatively, transport yourself into another dimension by tuning into Kamasi Washington or Balam Acab. And if none of these artists provide any political or motivational energy to help you push through, there’s always Nina Simone, David Bowie, Beyonce, Perfume Genius, Bjork, Gil Scot-Heron, PJ Harvey, Bob Dylan. Regardless, do yourself a favour by recuperating, revitalising, and regaining your drive by delving yourself into some of these albums. Now go forth and change the world.