Phoenix Playlist Picks: December 2020

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The fifth installment of Phoenix Playlist Picks — a series of monthly 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 December’s new releases.

This month’s playlist brings listeners back to live shows with Jake Ewald’s dialogues on Slaughter Beach, Dog’s surprise Christmas Eve release, while Kid Cudi’s highly anticipated third installment of his “Man On the Moon” series makes them miss screaming along to songs in person.

Slaughter Beach, Dog – “At the Moonbase”

In a seemingly never-ending line of “one-upping” himself, Jake Ewald has created yet another masterpiece with Slaughter Beach, Dog’s end-of-year surprise album “At the Moonbase.”

This album is no exception to Ewald’s consistency, holding storytelling and sonic environments above all else. Often in a Billy Joel-esque way, he holds the ability to worldbuild — creating fleshed-out characters and worlds in five minutes or less.

Its greatness doesn’t just rely on Ewald’s greatest hits though. The saxophone peppered throughout the album is a refreshing addition and adds even more depth to the experience that veteran listeners may already be accustomed to. 

It’s a shame the album dropped Dec. 23 because it likely would’ve made it onto quite a few year-end lists. However, if Ewald continues on this trajectory, it’s only a matter of time before Slaughter Beach, Dog gets the same critical and awards reception Phoebe Bridgers received this year.

Kid Cudi – “Man on the Moon III: The Chosen”

The third act in Kid Cudi’s series of vulnerability-driven epics couldn’t have come at a better time — the shortened days of winter are no help to an already emotionally spent populace, though “Man On The Moon III: The Chosen” offers them a bit of catharsis.

Even as Cudi runs through the darker songs of the album, the backing instrumentation and production keep the album from ever falling too deep into despair. The contrasts in the lyrics and sound make for a diverse range of emotions throughout the album, and even saves it from flatlining at times.

Incredibly, Cudi is consistently at the helm on the 18-song project. Unlike Big Sean’s “Detroit 2,” which was largely carried by its features, “Man On the Moon III” is always driven by the veteran artist. Guests only temporarily take control and fit seamlessly within the album’s tracks.

While the album has bleak stretches, it ultimately ends triumphantly. “Never lose hope, if you don’t, you’ll be golden / Always keep your family close, keep your heart open,” Cudi sings on the album’s penultimate track, giving listeners who find themselves relating to the heavier lyrics a brightness at the end of the tunnel — a much needed end to an album that might feel like a therapy session.

Eddie Vedder – “Matter of Time”

Acoustic, “at home” performances may have become more popular since March ended live performances indefinitely, but Eddie Vedder manages to bring a fresh and emotional take on the fledgling genre of releases with his extended play (EP) “Matter of Time.”

Vedder expanded the two songs he released in November with three “at home” recordings, including his rendition of Bruce Springsteen’s “Growin’ Up.”

In staying true to the rough, stripped down feel, Vedder doesn’t censor mistakes and isn’t afraid to break from the guided track of a song’s recorded version, which only adds to the character of the new additions.

“Just Breathe” is a particularly pungent tune to rehash at the moment due to its reflective nature, specifically when it comes to the themes of life and death. “As we sit alone / I know someday we must go,” Vedder sings on the track, the context of the pandemic mixed with the added imperfections in Vedder’s voice making it particularly pungent.

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