New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Tag: political songs

Jamie Kilstein Brings His Hilarious, Spot-On Spoofs and Fearless Political Rock to the East Village

Jamie Kilstein is the Jello Biafra of jamband rock. He’s fearless, he’s funny, and he calls bullshit on just about every every corporate-sponsored lie and right-wing myth out there. On one hand, making fun of Republicans is like shooting fish in a barrel. On the other, Kilstein’s critique goes far deeper than simply the horror-stricken thought that barring the unforeseen, Donald Trump will be our next President. Together with his Citizen Radio co-founder Allison Kilkenny, Kilstein has a new book, Newsfail: Climate Change, Feminism, Gun Control, and Other Fun Stuff We Talk About Because Nobody Else Will. He’s also got a LMFAO debut album, A Bit Much – with his band the Agenda, streaming at Spotify – and a weekly Wednesday 6 PM residency this month at Sidewalk.

The greatest pitfall in writing political songs is that it’s easy to let yourself get strident, or doctrinaire, to start believing your own bullshit. Preaching to the converted never did anything to change the world: it’s the people beyond the amen choir that you have to reach, and Kilstein does it with the kind of machinegunning barrage of one-liners that he honed in standup comedy. He leaves no stone unturned, no target standing: the NRA, the banksters, racists dressed in both Klan garb and business suits all get the bozack. On one hand, Kilstein hardly sugarcoats anything: his jokes can be awfully grim. On the other hand, this isn’t just the funniest album of the year, it might be the funniest album of the last few years. And is it ever relevant. And even the music is good! Kilstein distinguishes himself as as funky and fluent guitarist, with a solid band – guitarist Nick Phaneuf, bassist Greg Glasson, drummer Joe Magistro and cellist Jane Scarpantoni – behind him.

There’s an amusing video of the album’s opening track, Fuck the NRA, up on the front page of Kilstein’s site.  Over a purposeful hard funk backdrop, Kilstein speedraps both sides of a hilarious if sadly accurate dialogue about gun violence: “The Constitution didn’t say shit about your using Glocks to mow down Black teenagers ‘cause you’re afraid of anything not wearing a Klan outfit…you’re Steven Segall in real life, have you ever seen that guy run in real life, it’s terrible!”

Tiny Humans is closer to Matthew Grimm doing a spoof of early 90s open-chord indie rock. On one level, it’s a black-humor response in defense of those of us who’ve chosen not to have kids. On the other hand, the subtext is that if we don’t get global warming under control, those of us of childrearing age will be the last old people on the planet…if we make it that far.

With the next track, War, Kilstein goes back to mile-a-minute spoken word over a blisteringly noisy psych-punk-metal backdrop, akin to Jello Biafra right after the Dead Kennedys got finished off by the PMRC. It’s a spot-on, sarcastic look at American exceptionalism and the demonization of Muslims. Like the two guys who, after the Boston bombing, got fingered by some idiot and subsequently pulled off a plane for speaking Arabic, which, as Kilstein puts it, “doesn’t sound like Blake Shelton lyrics.”

Every Country Song Ever makes fun of New Nashville warmongering: “I found freedom on 9/11, when the Iraqis flew into Tower 7 – I read it!” Kilstein’s befuddled narrator crows. Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell takes a shot at homophobia, from the opposition to gay marriage, to Bible-bangers quoting scripture: it’s Kilstein at his quotable best, and there’s even a good bluesmetal guitar solo at the end.

The surprisingly subtle Nerd Love takes a poke at both cliched corporate singer-songwriters and film geeks. Scared White Boy Blues is even funnier as both anti-racist broadside and parody of lame white funk: the backing vocals are priceless. Kilstein returns to rapidfire spoken word over slinky no wave guitar with This Is NYC, which connects the dots between the sweatshop economy, gentrification and homelessness, among other issues. Then, with the swaying, Hendrix-inspired JFC, he goes after the anti-choice mob.

Catcall is pretty hilarious, a funky tune that offers karmic payback for would-be macho dudes who harass women. Kilstein ramps up the jokes about male insecurity with the savagely funny How Not to Be a Dick: “Male Presidents have bombed the shit out of the Middle East and don’t have their periods as an excuse – they’re just fucking sociopaths.” The final track is the suspiciously low-key Maniac, possibly a spoof of PC hippie pop.  Most comedy albums you hear once and that’s all you really need: this one stands up to repeated listening. It’s a good bet that Kilstein is twice as funny live.

Dylan Connor Releases a Catchy, Hard-Hitting New Political Pop Album

The cover shot of Dylan Connor’s new album Primitive Times shows a carful of monkeys with assault rifles. He dedicates it to Syrian freedom fighters killed in the ongoing revolution there. Which makes sense: Connor has a broader worldview than most songwriters. He’s got an easy way with a pop hook and can be a ferociously incisive wordsmith: a lot of these songs scream out for the replay button. Connor plays most of the instruments here – guitars, bass and keys – alongside Merritt Jacob’s tasteful lead guitar and Joe Izzo’s drums. His surprisingly wide-ranging vocals are nonchalant, unaffected and on-key, qualities that used to be a requirement but these days are a welcome exception to the rule.

The title track opens. It’s catchy, backbeat-driven 80s new wave pop with tersely resonant, bluesy lead guitar, layers of keys and what sounds like a drum machine:

Secret prisons for nameless crimes
Faceless enemies serving time
King doesn’t care what his people say
Great floods wash their homes away…
Countless languages, borderlines
It doesn’t take a genius to read the signs
In high rise buildings where cash is king
Corporate crooks all dance and sing
In the evolution of the modern mind…

Tattoo on Your Bones is an anthem that evokes a more lo-key Midnight Oil, a third world scenario that could be the first world someday soon:

Dry river soaked in rum
Drunk policemen
Stationed anywhere
Hopeless in the
Prayer-filled air
No buyers
When the power’s down
Dead heat hangs
His hat on the town

The poppiest of the A-list songs here, Pressure Point works a bit of a funk groove with jazzy chords and another lyrical bullseye:

You know that a watched pot never boils
Get to the point
The snake lashes out and then recoils
You thought that you could save your own ass
But all the pews are filled for midnight mass
And the prayer candles glow
Dogs play in the snow
And a voice is telling you to go

Not everything here is as lyrically oriented. A couple of tracks reach for a hazily apprehensive, distantly Beatlesque, Elliott Smith-style janglerock vibe; another is a Springsteenish plea to a girl to stay in and drink one of the world’s most ghetto beverages; there’s also an anthemic requiem for a powerpop guitarist who “Toured every dive bar on the west coast/His was the sound that cut the most.” And an awful folk-pop ditty that never should have made the cut (memo to Connor: stick with your good stuff, the record execs who might have drooled over that piece of schlock are all unemployed now). The album ends with the brooding, solo acoustic Feza Feza (Arabic for “Help, help!”), which Connor released last year as a fundraising single to help the people of Syria. Fans of literate, relevant tunesmiths who use catchy melodies to get an important message across (Mike Rimbaud, Fred Gillen Jr. and Stephan Said, to name just three) should check this guy out.

Songs of Freedom from Amanda Palmer

Back from her tour singing to protestors at the seven Occupy sites throughout the US, Amanda Palmer teamed up with her Boston filmmaker pal Michael Gill to make a video for her version of 1975 Leon Rosselson song  The World Turned Upside Down, which she originally learned of via Billy Bragg. Her Ukulele Anthem is also up as a free download:

It takes about an hour to learn how to play the ukulele
About same to teach someone to build a standard pipe bomb
YOU DO THE MATH