Review: Occupy This Album (2012)

Byron Clark

Wired magazine journalist Quinn Norton wrote about the music of the Occupy movement way back in December 2011, stating that “A movement goes nowhere without creating culture as it grows.” ‘Occupy This Album’ seemed almost inevitable. This is the closest thing possible to an official sound track that could come out of this loosely organised and non-hierarchical movement. All proceeds from the album go back to Occupy Wall Street activists.

Ambitiously the album was going to contain 99 tracks, playing on the slogan of “the 99%” that the movement has popularised. The CD version consists of 78 tracks, though the download version contains 99. Big names from previous generations of protest-musicians feature here: Patti Smith, Willie Nelson, Ani DiFranco (singing the union song Which side are you on?), Yoko Ono, and Joan Baez all leant their talents to this project. Even folk legend Pete Seeger- now in his mid-90s appears here, speaking on the track Industrial Park by his grandson’s band ‘The Mammals.’

Alongside those artists are tracks from more contemporary artists. Thievery Corporation and Third Eye Blind are probably the most recognisable names. Leftist punk rockers Anti-Flag, and rapper Immortal Technique are both here, and while the politics is good the heavy punk and hip-hop don’t slot in so well with an album that is mostly folk and progressive rock. Tom Morello, of Rage Against the Machine, now performs ‘World Wide Rebel Songs’ which makes for a better fit. Another great track is English singer-song writer Lloyd Coles The Young Idealists which exemplifies the album’s mood and musical style. Listening to this album you’ll also be exposed to some songs by lesser known artists such as Build the Sun and Jennie Arnau, as well as the novelty of a cover of Bob Dylan’s The Times They Are A’Changin’ performed by documentary film maker Michael Moore.

The only real downside to Occupy this Album is the songs that aren’t on there. Hawaiian musician Makana debuted his track We are the Many when he was hired to play a for world leaders in Honolulu during an annual summit formulating plans for a Pacific free-trade pact. In front of Barack Obama, Julia Gillard and others he opened his shirt to revel a t-shirt reading ‘Occupy with Aloha’ and repeated the song which features the “We’ll occupy the streets, we’ll occupy the courts, we’ll occupy the offices of you, till you do the bidding of the many, not the few.” It’s a significant oversight that this track doesn’t feature.

Also absent is David Rovics, today’s most prolific political folk singer who has penned a song dedicated to the movement. Tay Zonday, who a few years ago became an online hit with his song Chocolate Rain (a song about the intersection between racial and economic oppression- though this theme was missed by many listeners) released the song Mama Economy last year and, despite some slightly confused politics, it would have been a welcome addition. As would Liberty Walk by Miley Cyrus. While the track might be scoffed at by indy-music affectionardos, the fact that this former Disney teen star came out with a song supporting Occupy shows just how much of an impact this movement has had.

Even without those songs however, this a great momentum of a movement and the 4 CD set also features some excellent cover art. If you slept in a public place, attended one of the Open Air Universities, or marched on a demonstration , you should buy this album. And even if you did none of those things, purchasing a copy will be another way to support the movement.

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