Phoenix Playlist Picks: February 2021

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The seventh 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 February’s new releases.

In a Phoenix Playlist Picks first, this edition contains a movie soundtrack recommendation, alongside more of the usual — full-length debuts from singer-songwriter Pink Sweat$ and screamo band For Your Health as well as Julien Baker’s third album. 

Pink Sweat$ – “PINK PLANET”

After two years of dropping a few tracks here and there, Pink Sweat$ (aka David Bowden) has finally released his debut album, and it’s safe to say it was worth the wait.

Being raised in a religious household clearly affected him musically, and it shines through on this album. Organs and larger-than-life choruses come to back Bowden up throughout the record’s 18 tracks. 

The Philadelphia native has a knack for making some of the best new R&B music, something that can largely be credited to his vocals and songwriting. Whether it’s the commanding opener “PINK CITY” or radio-friendly “At My Worst,” Bowden enchants listeners with his soulful voice.

Pink Sweat$ has come a long way from producing and writing for artists like Tierra Whack and Florida Georgia Line. He’s his own artist now, arguably outshining most of the artists he’d previously worked for with this stunning debut.

Mark Isham, Craig Harris – “Judas and the Black Messiah Original Motion Picture Soundtrack”

This blurb won’t delve into the content of the movie — which was phenomenal in spite of it not being a “true” Fred Hampton biopic — but instead will focus on the film’s score.

Tonally, the music couldn’t fit each scene better, with a prime example being all three uses of Chicago jazz musician Rahsaan Roland Kirk’s “The Inflated Tear.” The track starts the movie off with a noir feel but is later used for an unnerving callback — something it was almost built for given Kirk’s tendency to play multiple saxophones at once to create dissonant, unsettling sounds. 

Unsettling is a word that could describe much of the music throughout the movie. Hair-raising jazz fit for a horror movie helps to create anxiety in scenes that are visually calm but ooze tension.

The soundtrack and movie are basically required media for Chicagoans. The story’s history and music are relevant to the city and can help viewers put more current events, such as last summer’s protests, into better context — plus you get to watch LaKeith Stanfield on screen which makes it worth it to begin with. 

For Your Health – “In Spite Of”

Columbus-based screamo band For Your Health debuted their first full-length album Feb. 12. The 12-track record is a phenomenal debut and reason for listeners to keep an eye out for future releases.

There’s something masterful about music as heavy as this where the guitar is often the cleanest sound on the recording. “Push the Fucking Rock, Sisy” is perhaps the best example of this, with shredding vocals, frantic drums and earthquake-inducing bass lines backing bright guitar tones.

However, there are lighter songs where everything gets a bit calmer. Tracks such as “Abscess Makes the Heart Grow” are a testament to the dynamic sounds the group is capable of pulling off, especially when they are followed by some of the heaviest songs on the album. 

“In Spite Of” is what everyone, regardless of their feelings toward screamo music, needs after a long day of school, work or whatever else is stressful. Moshing in your car or bedroom to destress is the perfect catharsis and one of the better ways to enjoy this album. 

Julien Baker – “Little Oblivions”

In her first substantial release since her work with the boygenius supergroup, Julien Baker has returned with her third album “Little Oblivions.”

Lead singles “Favor” and “Faith Healer” showed a slight shift in musical direction. Previously, percussion had a tendency to fall to the wayside, though the drums now find their own flow higher up in the mix, and it works as she brings back her haunting, layered vocals. 

Despite this, Baker finds herself back in her comfort zone lyrically, though this time around they have a different angle. Much of the album is rooted in self-reflection after self-destruction — Baker herself mentioned the album was inspired by her break from years of sobriety that followed years of substance abuse.

“Blacked out on a weekday / Still, something that I’m trying to avoid / Start asking for forgiveness in advance / For all the future things I will destroy,” she sings to open the album.

The heavy lyrics distract from her vocals, which have held the spotlight on previous releases. Not to say her vocal performance isn’t stunning as ever, and previous fans will find this album in line with her prior two, but it’s clear Baker was looking to heal from something serious and this is her catharsis. 

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