It’s difficult to recall an album that can rival the debut effort of Briggs & Trial‘s project A.B. Original, Reclaim Australia, for cultural importance and significance. In press materials for the album, Ryan Griffen (conceiver of incredible, groundbreaking ABC show Cleverman) acknowledges that “many people aren’t ready for this”, and he’s right – most probably only need to scroll through their newsfeeds a few times to find examples of ugly, unrepentant racism. There’s no question that some people are not open to listening to a Yorta Yorta man and a Ngarrindjeri man spit, with straight-backed conviction, about racism in Australia. And that alone proves that this album is absolutely essential.
There is no hand-holding on Reclaim Australia. The title alone, blatantly mocking the name of a particularly racist group, should tell you that. This is not a gentle reminder about how Racism Is Bad. This is righteous anger that presents the facts of lived experiences, and in case there was any doubt, A.B. Original do not give a fuck if that makes you uncomfortable. It should. It should make you think, question, act. In the album’s Intro, the legendary Archie Roach asserts that in order to make these realities heard, you have to “get in their faces”. So that’s exactly what Briggs & Trials do.
A.B. Original’s debut track 2 Black 2 Strong, which came out in March this year, is a celebration of bravado and strength, positioning the duo as one that doesn’t hesitate to deride those who contribute to a system that devalues them. This song was my introduction and I was instantly hooked. That filthy brassy motif, squelching so satisfyingly alongside lines like “I hit you with that Andrew Bolt of lightning”, and all the while dismantling pressure for First Nation’s people to be placid or peaceful in the face of their ongoing systemic degradation? These are the voices that Australian music needs more of. On Reclaim Australia, the voices that have been consistently muffled and ignored are seizing the spotlight that was always rightfully theirs.
Call Em Out, featuring Guilty Simpson rails viciously against the idea that call-out culture is toxic or unhelpful. To hammer the point home, the track is peppered with atrociously racist and unfortunately all-too-real voice clips with media personalities and politicians suggesting that those with mixed heritages are somehow dangerous, or that white nationalist eugenics are an option, or many other disgusting things. It’s abhorrent, and these are things that people have really said. People continue to say and do similarly disgusting things, and the crux of a culture that glosses over that sort of behaviour is police murdering unarmed First Nation’s people and get away on a manslaughter charge or less.
That is the reality of Australia in 2016, and A.B. Original are determined that everyone get the message. It’s not the only track on the album about police violence: this is a theme that’s revisited several times. From Caiti Baker‘s feature on Dead In A Minute, unpacking what it is to live constantly looking over your shoulder, fearing you’ll become a target if you aren’t one already, to REPORT TO THE MIST, an unrelenting diatribe against the police. MIST affirms how completely unnecessary and unhelpful it is to defend the profession as a whole, when the culture permeating relentlessly through is violent and deadly for First Nation’s people. Quasi-literally fighting fire with fire, A.B. Original respond to the atrocities that continue to be committed with righteous antagonism.
January 26 is a masterclass in how to perform a perfect 10/10 fuck you to people who are racist and/or wilfully obtuse about the debate surrounding #ChangeTheDate. It’s a much bigger debate than simply changing the date of triple j’s Hottest 100, and a much more significant one, historically speaking. Featuring Dan Sultan, January 26 ferociously pokes gigantic, gaping holes in the shaky logical fallacies that advocates of leaving “Australia Day” as is often spurt. Unfortunately (but sadly not unanticipated), certain shit-stains have decided that this song is “racist against white people” and have been whinging about it all over their chosen false kingdoms, the comment sections. The more moderate shit-stains – more like skid marks – have simply turned to tone policing, wringing their hands in a disingenuous “why can’t we all just get along?” rhetoric. But A.B. Original have no time for coddling those who choose not to educate themselves and nor should they. I turn the other cheek, I get a knife in my back/And I tell ’em it hurts, they say I overreact/So fuck that (fuck that!)
There’s definitely no shortage of star appearances here, lending their voices to hammer these messages well and truly home. Firing Squad, with its swung drum machine and washed-out synth lines features Hau, and ICU features Thelma Plum, who by the way needs to release new music because I love her deeply. On the track, she sings an insightful chorus hook – You’re too busy watching me when you need to watch yourself – encouraging people not to pass judgements that fail to take into account personal histories along with a larger social context. Compton MC King T comes to the table for The Feast, lampooning attitudes that feed directly into a system that is run by and for white people at the direct expense and oppression of First Nation’s people. Reclaim Australia wraps on Gurrumul-featuring track Take Me Home, which you may recognise as being used on Cleverman, which also features Briggs. Through the anger felt over 200 years, there’s a sense of wistful, almost mournful longing for freedom and peace in their home – a place that has been ripped from First Nation’s people and ruled as an invading police state since the first fleet of European settlers arrived.
This album is, unequivocally, a landmark album that will continue to push boundaries of people’s perception, their preconceived notions of race and justice, and set a new standard for constructive dialogue and the valuing of the voices of First Nation’s people for decades to come. Its importance cannot be overstated – it could inspire and motivate a generation. It deserves, without a doubt, to be crowned the best Australian release of the year. If Reclaim Australia offends you, then I’d recommend listening to it on a loop until you wake up from your fragile grip on reality.
Image: A.B. Original