The November Gauntlet
Two major pop releases from Ariana Grande and Miley Cyrus headline this month, plus a mammoth E/O November playlist
I've got a slightly trimmed down version of the Either/Or gauntlet this month ahead of my upcoming Best of 2020 lists which will be dropping later this December (stay tuned!), but still plenty to dissect in two of the biggest pop albums of the year as well as even more Phoebe Bridgers. Let's have a look.
November Album Reviews
Positions - Ariana Grande
On her third album in as many years, Ariana Grande swaps pain for pleasure with a low key set of sensual R&B jams on Positions. Coming off the tumultuous life events that led to the creative flush of Sweetener and thank u, next, it's heartening to hear a happier and healthier version of Grande, as she cuts a playfully devilish figure while basking in her most explicit songwriting to date over a slick mix of pop and hip-hop production from long time collaborator Tommy Brown and guests such as London On Da Track.
The flip side of Positions' carefree energy is a relative lack of depth in its subject matter, which frequently only has one thing on its mind. The result is a less introspective, and frankly less memorable, record than the wholly tighter concept of an enduring pop masterwork like thank u, next, though you could argue that Grande's sixth studio album was perhaps a little unfairly doomed to suffer from comparisons to its predecessor once it didn't reach the dizzying heights of one of 2019's best albums. Still, while Positions may feel like a bit of a comedown and probably doesn't have the staying power of its counterparts in Grande's discography, you may be too busy vibing to the sound of Ari getting her swagger back to care too much.
Best Tracks: '34+35'/'positions'/'pov'
Plastic Hearts - Miley Cyrus
The obvious potential of Miley Cyrus' ability to create massive hit singles coupled with her wild, unbending if sometimes misguided ambition (see Miley Cyrus And Her Dead Petz here) has never revealed itself in a consistent, cohesive full length LP. Cyrus' oddball eccentricities and chart topping success have always seemed like a temperamental formula that has never come quite right on record, until now - Plastic Hearts sees Miley skillfully execute a radio rock sound that throws back to her idols Joan Jett and Debbie Harry on the twenty eight year old's best album to date.
Cyrus revels in this super fun homage to glam rock, enlisting superstars like Jett ('Bad Karma'), Billy Idol ('Night Crawling') and Stevie Nicks ('Edge of Midnight') on a barnstorming collection of airwave friendly classic rock tracks, while also leaving plenty of room for electropop bangers in ferocious lead single 'Midnight Sky', and 'Prisoner', on which Miley finds a thrilling opposite number in one of 2020's MVPs of pop Dua Lipa. Fusing two seemingly opposing styles with a delirious energy to match her campy badass attitude throughout, Cyrus is clearly having the time of her life on Plastic Hearts and it translates into one of the more pleasant surprises of the year.
Miley has taken a lot of time to figure herself out, and the chameleonic nature of her career to date has seemingly at times represented her own confusion at what kind of an artist she wants to be, and crucially there is no PR stunt or shock factor on Cyrus' seventh album - just a straightforward mix of infectious pop and rock tunes with no frills attached. Plastic Hearts takes the best parts of Cyrus' maddeningly inconsistent form over the past decade and comes closest to revealing what feels like a fully realized version of its controversial creator.
Best Tracks: 'Plastic Hearts'/'Midnight Sky'/'Prisoner (featuring Dua Lipa)'
Copycat Killer EP - Phoebe Bridgers
Releasing one of the foremost candidates for album of the year wasn't enough, so Phoebe Bridgers bestows us with an early Christmas gift this November on Copycat Killer.
The four track EP is a stunning set of reworked highlights from Punisher, as Bridgers pairs up with arranger and multi instrumentalist Rob Moose (Bon Iver, The National, Vampire Weekend and whole host of other indie royalty) to strip down some of her sophomore albums best moments as 'Kyoto', 'Savior Complex', 'Chinese Satellite' and the album's devastating title track are vividly reenvisioned.
The results are dramatic - each track finds new life through Moose's simplistic yet stunning string arrangements which emphasize Bridgers voice to breathtaking effect.
* And if that's not enough of a Phoebe fix for you this month, then check out her beautifully bittersweet cover of Merle Haggard's 'If We Make It Through December' below in the E/O November Playlist which dropped at the end of last month - all proceeds from the Christmas single go to the Los Angeles Downtown Womens Center.
Best Tracks: 'Kyoto' (Copycat Killer Version)/ 'Punisher' (Copycat Killer Version)
Either/Or's November Playlist
November saw no shortage of tunes and so the E/O Playlist boasts a whopping 36 tracks this month. There are big returns from rock powerhouses in Foo Fighters, Smashing Pumpkins and System Of A Down, some cracking live performances including Arctic Monkeys, The Postal Service and an iconic rendition of a T Rex classic from Morrissey and Bowie, Mike Shinoda and Robert Smith's superb remixes of Deftones, a highly unlikely Wu Tung collab and the usual supply of the latest and best tracks from the hottest artists in the world among a wide variety of genres. And all of this bookended by the one and only Phoebe Bridgers. Enjoy.
If We Make It Through December - Phoebe Bridgers
Therefore I Am - Billie Eilish
Prisoner (feat. Dua Lipa) - Miley Cyrus
two queens in a king sized bed - girl in red
One For Regret - Lost Horizons, Porridge Radio
When It Breaks - Inhaler
Home - Teenage Fanclub
Feel The Thunder (The Croods: A New Age) - Haim
Shame Shame - Foo Fighters
Protect The Land - System Of A Down
Passenger (Mike Shinoda Remix) - Deftones, Mike Shinoda
Teenager (Robert Smith Remix) - Deftones, Robert Smith
No Save Point (From ''Cyberpunk 2077'') - Run The Jewels
Blinding Lights (Remix with ROSALÍA) - The Weeknd, ROSALÍA
34 + 35 - Ariana Grande
Stay Down (with 6LACK & Young Thug) - Lil Durk, 6LACK, Young Thug
Hi - Texas, Wu Tang Clan
Stendur æva (with Steindór Andersen, Hilmar Örn Hilmarsson and María Huld Markan Sigfúsdóttir) - Sigur Ros, Steindór Andersen, Hilmar Örn Hilmarsson and María Huld Markan Sigfúsdóttir
I Can't Go On Living Without You - Elton John
Cosmic Dancer (Live) - Morrissey, David Bowie
chinatown (feat. Bruce Springsteen) - Bleachers, Bruce Springsteen
The District Sleeps Alone Tonight (Live) - The Postal Service
Gone - James Vincent McMorrow
Ramona - The Smashing Pumpkins
Water in the Well - shame
All You're Dreaming Of - Liam Gallagher
Cornerstone (Live) - Arctic Monkeys
Under The Moon - Foster The People
Straight To The Morning - Hot Chip, Jarvis Cocker
Change - Pale Waves
Green Eyes - Arlo Parks
Headstart - Jade Bird
Summertime The Gershwin Version - Lana Del Rey
Don't Come Home A-Drinkin' (With Lovin' On Your Mind) - Dolores Diaz & The Standby Club, Corina Figueroa Escamilla
Kyoto (Copycat Killer Version) - Phoebe Bridgers
December's Most Anticipated Releases
Arctic Monkeys - Live at the Royal Albert Hall [Indie rock]
Sigur Ros - Odin's Raven Magic [Post rock/Ambient/Art rock]
The White Stripes - Greatest Hits [Blues/Garage rock/Indie rock]
The Avalanches - We Will Always Love You [Electronic/Hip-Hop]
Belle and Sebastian - What To Look For In Summer [Live/Indie pop]
Deftones - Black Stallion [Remix/Electronic/Alternative metal]
Guided By Voices - Styles We Paid For [Indie rock/Lo-fi]
Kid Cudi - Man On The Moon III: The Chosen [Hip-Hop]
Mac Miller - Swimming In Circles [Hip-Hop]
Maggie Rogers - Notes From The Archive: Recordings 2011-2016 [Folk pop]
Paul McCartney - McCartney III [Pop/Rock]