Phoenix Playlist Picks: November 2020

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The fourth installment of The Phoenix’s monthly playlist picks — a series of articles where Phoenix editors make Spotify playlists of the best new music each month and then select some of their favorites to write about — focuses on November’s new releases. 

This playlist jumps between the heights of pop in Megan Thee Stallion’s debut and the depths of metal with System of a Down’s meaningful reunion alongside Miley Cyrus’ seventh studio album and more. 

System of a Down – “Promised Land/Genocidal Humanoidz”

Alternative metal band System of a Down reunited briefly to release two new songs, “Protect the Land” and “Genocidal Humanoidz,” their first new songs in 15 years. 

The group said it was to raise awareness of the conflict going on between their ancestral homeland of Armenia and Azerbaijan, with all proceeds going to the Armenia Fund to provide relief for the people who have been displaced by the fighting.

The two songs perfectly encapsulate the band’s range in different ways, with “Protect the Land” connecting to their softer side while retaining an edge. “Genocidal Humanoidz,” on the other hand, represents the more frantic sound of their early days, more similar to the song “Soil” from their 1998 self-titled album.

Despite the release getting fans’ hopes up, in an interview with NME, guitarist Daron Malakian said not to expect anything else new from them, citing internal conflict.

Megan Thee Stallion – “Good News”

In her debut album, Megan Thee Stallion utilizes fun beats to back her confident, straightforward rapping. The record opens with a diss track aimed at Tory Lanez, who’s facing felony charges for assault with a semiautomatic firearm, which line up with allegations made by Megan Thee Stallion in July that he shot her.

Her style choices make the album feel lighter, though she traverses many of the hardships she faced in the last year throughout the album, giving the lyrics a heavier tone in some cases.

“Bullet wounds, backstabs, mama died, still sad / At war with myself, in my head, bitch, it’s Baghdad” she raps on “Circles.”

While the album isn’t revolutionary, it doesn’t need to be. Her credence in herself and her style — which created her hit song “Savage” and netted the artist three Grammy nominations — is palpable and makes her debut all that more impressive.

Miley Cyrus – “Plastic Hearts”

After working on an album for two years — and then abruptly having to start over when her house burned down — Miley Cyrus has finally released her seventh album. A cover of Blondie’s “Heart of Glass” was joined by lead singles “Midnight Sky” and “Prisoner” to build hype for the 12 new tracks.

Pairing with impressive instrumentals, Cyrus’ intense vocals help to blur the genre lines of the album. The drums on “Gimme What I Want” are reminiscent of those in Phil Collins’ “In the Air Tonight,” furthering the album’s ‘80s vibe, which it successfully achieves throughout — complete with features from Joan Jett and Billy Idol. 

Despite most of the tracks being relatively homogenous sonically, none of them ever feel stale or too similar. Ballads like “Angels Like You” and “High” help to break up the track list and display Cyrus’ range, though her cover of The Cranberries’ “Zombie” — which is also featured on the album — is still one of the better displays of her vocal talent.

Smashing Pumpkins – “CYR”

Former Edgewater resident James Iha’s band recently released their 10th studio album, which boasts 20 songs. The double album clocks in at an hour and 12 minutes — quite a leap of faith for the band given their new style — though it’s backed up well by the group’s confident performances.

The departure from their classic sound was smoothed out by the synth-heavy soundscapes and crisp percussion throughout the album. Some instrumentals, such as those on “Wyttch,” are reminiscent of the Pumpkins’ heavier days without being an attempt to note-for-note recreate their past.

While the length can be a hurdle to new listeners, returning fans are already used to the group’s lengthy releases — “Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness,” one of their more popular releases, was also a double album. Though “CYR” doesn’t quite live up to the 1995 release, it’s a solid rebirth of a band that seemed to have reached its end long before now. 

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